Remember a couple of years ago when GameStop, that video game store you never entered at the mall, was suddenly in the headlines?
It started when a guy named Keith Gill began posting on a Reddit forum called Wall Street Bets that he had been following GameStop stock, thought it was very undervalued, and had started buying a bunch of shares. At the same time, several hedge fund managers had come to the exact opposite conclusion and bet tens of millions that the stock’s price would go down.
Gill developed quite a following on Reddit, posting videos and sharing the numbers in his brokerage account. Using the Robin Hood app — which had become popular with individual investors who suddenly found it easy to buy and sell stocks — many of Gill’s viewers followed his lead and bought GameStop stock, too. It quickly became known as a meme stock, positioned as a David vs. Goliath story with amateur stock traders trying to stick it to the one-percenters who supposedly had sophisticated knowledge of all things financial.
“Dumb Money” is based on the book “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich, who also wrote the book David Fincher’s “The Social Network” was based on (here’s my conversation about it with Mezrich). And in an interesting twist, two of that story’s characters, the Winklevoss twins, who founded a cryptocurrency exchange, are listed as producers of this one. Also, Teddy Schwarzman, son of the CEO of the giant hedge fund Blackstone, provided financing for the movie.
I didn’t like the way director Craig Gillespie tried to make Tonya Harding worthy of our empathy with “I, Tonya” in 2017 (read my review here), and I named his “The Finest Hours” one of the Worst Movies Of 2016. But with “Dumb Money,” he’s gotten it right. The script by former Wall Street Journal reporters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo does a good job of explaining the somewhat complicated aspects of what happened, and Gillespie steers it all with a very light touch reminiscent of Adam McKay’s “The Big Short.”
The story works thanks to a strong lead performance from Paul Dano, who has put together quite a run of quality films in the last decade, from “Prisoners” to “Love and Mercy” to “The Fabelmans.” In “Dumb Money,” Dano has just the right manic energy as Gill, who was known on Reddit as Roaring Kitty.
We also meet America Ferrara as Jenny, a nurse and single mother in Pittsburgh, Talia Ryder and Myha’la Herrold as two college students in Austin, and Anthony Ramos as a guy who works at a GameStop in Detroit. They all follow Gill’s every word and keep holding the stock as others jump on the bandwagon and push it higher and higher. On the other side of the ledger, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman and Vincent D’Onofrio play the arrogant hedge fund managers who get burned by the GameStop frenzy and the individual investors they derided as “dumb money.”
Pete Davidson uses his entire acting range — from A to B — to portray Gill’s loser brother just like every other Pete Davidson character. Fortunately, the supporting cast also includes talented folks like Shailene Woodley as Gill’s wife, plus Kate Burton and Clancy Brown, two veteran character actors incapable of bad performances, as the parents of the two brothers.
I had enough of a good time watching “Dumb Money” to give it an 8.5 out of 10.