Dumb Money: Explaining the GameStop Drama
Dumb Money has a lot of explaining to do. As its older cousin The Big Short did with the housing bubble of the 2000s, this valedictory comedy about the GameStop drama of 2021 needs to lay out exactly what happened when 8 million Redditors decided to send the stock for a flailing brick-and-mortar franchise “to the moon” – and do so for people who barely know what a stock is. Even without all the online jargon – tendies, apes, diamond hands, more terms not suitable for polite discourse – the machinations of the scheme are complicated. That means that director Craig Gillespie must devote a significant percentage of his movie to explaining what the hell is going on and who all these people are. Luckily, a lot of the real-life details are totally absurd, which fits the mood of this irreverent film.
Dumb Money doesn’t waste any time exploring why Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a.k.a. Roaring Kitty, and his online fan base decided to screw over Wall Street by investing in a struggling video-game retailer. At this point, even hedge-fund types are aware of how much the average person hates hedge-fund types – they’re the robber barons of our day. And they’re presented as villains from the opening scene, where Melvin Capital Management executive Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) sprints through an empty mansion on his way to take a Zoom call. His company just lost billions overnight, and now Gabe is the one who has to do the explaining.
From there, we jump back seven months to the summer of 2020, when Gill first shared his enthusiasm for GameStop and his plans to invest in it on the r/wallstreetbets subreddit. “I just like the stock,” he says, with the kind of po-faced irony that the terminally online love and the rest of the world struggles to understand. He’s joking, but he’s not, and he’s serious about doing something completely unserious. Dumb Money strikes a similar tone, combining earnest David-and-Goliath sentiment with goofy jokes about TikTok, DoorDash, and not knowing the difference between Jimmy and Warren Buffett.
Many of the film’s funniest jokes come from Keith’s slacker brother Kevin (Pete Davidson, unconvincing as Dano’s blood relative but otherwise perfectly cast), who eats the fries out of the food orders he delivers by bike in the Gills’ hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. (The Masshole accents in this film are pronounced, and at times silly, but again – that’s the type of movie this is.) Keith’s wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), meanwhile, is unfailingly supportive, and if there’s a dark side to Roaring Kitty, it is not explored here.
Instead, Dumb Money breaks down the nuances of who participated in the GameStop short squeeze and what happened to them through a handful of disparate characters, all of them true believers. There’s Jennifer (America Ferrera), a single mother who works at a hospital and goes by the screen name StonkMom; Marcus (Anthony Ramos), a GameStop employee who hates his boss but loves the company; and Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold), college girlfriends at UT Austin who get their entire dorm in on the Roaring Kitty craze. All of them are motivated by a combination of financial self-interest and anti-establishment fervor: Sure, they want to make money. But if they screw over some billionaires, that’d be cool, too.
By accompanying each character’s introduction with an onscreen readout of their net worth, Dumb Money underlines the staggering disparity between these everyday people and the rich dicks who underestimated them. For Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), the powerful money man behind Citadel LLC, the number is $36.9 billion; for Harmony, a student from a poor family weighed down by loans, it’s $-186,451. Their pleasures and problems are different, too: The craft beers in Keith and Caroline’s fridge contrast with a lavish party thrown by Robinhood CEOs Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota), who have no idea what they’re doing but raise lots of money anyway thanks to their talent for business-speak bullshit.
Dumb Money evokes its era with surprising specificity
For a movie about events that happened two years ago, Dumb Money evokes its era with surprising specificity, through a combination of loud hip-hop needle drops (Megan Thee Stallion is a favorite) and a recurring bit where characters ask one another to please pull up their masks. (COVID-19 dates every movie it touches, but at least it’s intentional here.) Montages of memes feature prominently in this film, a technique that grows tiresome after its fourth or fifth use. But it does capture the vernacular and attitude of a specific internet subculture at a particular point in history – a moment when Elon Musk had yet to buy Twitter, as becomes obvious whenever the billionaire’s face shows up on screen.
The internet moves fast. But so does Glillespie. In the flashy style also seen in his breakthrough film, I, Tonya, the Dumb Money director jumps between scenes with rhythmic repetition and a manic pace that lends visual excitement to a story that largely takes place online. A large cast of familiar faces also keeps the novelty factor high, even if the plot is a foregone conclusion. In the end, Goliath always wins. So you might as well have some lulz along the way.