Dumb Money review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Dumb Money attempts to make sense of the phenomenon of the GameStop short squeeze of 2021. It covers more than the heavily biased documentaries that cropped up in the past year, but it still leaves a bit of a complicated mess oversimplified. Trying to understand the specifics of how the stock market works is like deciphering the most advanced engineering mathematics. This is not the movie that gives the Big-Short-style explanation of the whole ordeal while making it look stylish. What it does do, however, is provide some personal context for why so many people had faith in this movement.
This mindset makes sense for those who lived through the 2020 pandemic. People were losing money and could barely make ends meet in the pathetic state of the Covid-19 pandemic, where the rich got richer, and the poor were overworked to death. One man, Keith Gill (Paul Dano), offers a chance to deal a blow to hedge fund managers. Though he has a family, he still dumps his money into the failing stock of GameStop. His strategy is shared with everyone as he makes livestream posts of homework on why he keeps buying the stock. He believes that if enough people buy, they’ll be able to inflate the price of the GameStop stock and make the hedgefund managers profiting from it fail.
Keith inspires other down-on-their-luck people to take a chance on his stock advice through his many memes and spreadsheets. Within this narrative, the buyers include the overworked nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera), the bitter GameStop retail employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos), and the college couple of Riri (Myha'la Herrold) and Harmoney (Talia Ryder). They approach this proposition with a “screw it” mentality. They’ve already lost so much money. Why not play the stock market with the one guy online who has the homework to suggest the stock will go up?
The buyers succeed, but their strategy in this endeavor seems to be one of holding out for the stock to go higher. Sure, they’ll make a return on profit if they sell after the sudden increase, but the online movement via the Reddit page of WallStreetBets holds firm on the stock. They know if they not only refuse to sell but buy even more stock that, the stock will go even higher. This new development surprises the hedgefund executives, including Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), Steve Cohen (Vincent D'Onofrio), and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman). This leads to a cheating maneuver of the trading app Robinhood, taking down the Sell button for GameStop for a short time. The truth behind this move is far more than just hedgefund managers rigging the system, considering there’s a far deeper level of convolution and corruption within Wall Street that is nowhere near as simple as the film makes it seem.
This film works because it boils down the movement into the emotional motivations behind the poor, even if it exaggerates how much boot-sweating there was for the rich. There was some concern with the hedge fund managers, but not enough that ? the managers in this story hardly fret when the GameStop stock is inflated. But for the poor, there’s desperation to play the game. Some of them make some money, and some of them don’t. Many weren’t entirely sure what would happen and saw this ordeal as a chance to shake up the system. While this “short squeeze” made a bit of a dent, it was also a gambling narrative that wrecked people like Jennifer, who didn’t fully realize what they were getting into. There’s also a simple comfort in how the film portrays the rich as bumbling morons intending to ensure the house always wins.
Dumb Money is not the most comprehensive film on this topic, especially when the biggest criticism of the WallStreetBets movement is Keith’s brother, Kevin (Pete Davidson), calling everybody nerds. There’s way more criticism to lob, from questioning the endgame payout to the ableist language of the movement. But the film is skillfully directed with slick editing, humor, and rap music to create a compelling story of fighting for the little guy, even if the little guy never entirely knew the fight he was fighting.