Dumb Money (2023)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriters: Lauren Schuker Blum, Rebecca Angelo
Starring: Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Talia Ryder, Myha’la Herrold
Dumb Money isn’t the first film in recent times that has attempted to convey an element of the volatile nature that the modern economic system is built upon. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street has become a bit of an unfortunate mascot for hustle mentality, probably unwillingly, as a result of its depiction of just how game-like it all is. Whether that’s a good basis for such a system is up for debate, but it is surely difficult to argue that it doesn’t appear to be a bit of a blasé way for the world to run. What Dumb Money does differently is it commits entirely, in no uncertain terms, to a line of thought that says such a system is unfair and is entirely appropriate as a subject of our ridicule.
Given the true story that it is based upon, it would have been hard for Craig Gillespie (director of I, Tonya and Cruella) and company to present it as anything else.
Back in 2020, a bunch of hedge funds and large investors engaged in short-selling stock for popular video game retailer GameStop. The practice of short-selling is essentially making a bet on a company’s imminent failure – the investors borrowed stock from a panel of brokers and sold it on to new investors with the hopes that the price would fall, meaning they could rebuy the stock at a lower price to return the borrowed stock and keep the monetary difference between the two as profit. It’s risky, as the price could also rise, but it’s rare that Wall Street traders lose these bets. What they couldn’t have foreseen is a Reddit forum – r/wallstreetbets – coming together to buy the stock en masse, led by a YouTuber under the alias of Roaring Kitty, played in Dumb Money by Paul Dano.
Because so many stocks were bought by so many people, prices dramatically rose. A lot of hedge funds and large investors lost large amounts of money, and a lot of normal people were able to make some. The absurdity of the situation was picked up by international news outlets, celebrities and politicians as the ethics of artificially inflating stock prices became a popular debate.
Dumb Money, in telling its story mostly from the perspective of Roaring Kitty, sets itself on the side of the normal person trying to wrangle back a tiny crumb of payback from a system that isn’t set up to benefit them. America Ferrera plays a nurse who browses Reddit in her spare time. Anthony Ramos is a young GameStop employee from a working class family. Talia Ryder and Myha’la Herrold are students who’ve experienced first-hand the devastating effects that stock plummeting can have on ordinary families while hedge funds and large investors cheer it on. Of course, making money during it is nice, but they all have a moral fight to partake in too.
Nick Offerman, Seth Rogen and Vincent D’Onofrio are presented as the villains of the piece, playing Gabe Plotkin, Steve Cohen and Kenneth Griffin respectively. Each of them is extremely wealthy, and extremely arrogant when it comes to stock markets. They disregard every advance that r/wallstreetbets makes on the GameStop stock because they know the odds are stacked in their favour. The odds being stacked in their favour is an essential part of the story, because it’s the only way any of them could ever be so rich. They’re all presented as absolute clowns.
There are comedic moments throughout, but where Dumb Money really, and voluntarily, shows its colours is where the humour is pointed. When Roaring Kitty or the non-professional investors are in a scene that’s supposed to make us laugh, we’re laughing with them. When it’s the professional investors, it’s very much at them. While Anthony Ramos’ Marcus gets one over on his boss, we’re laughing because we’re encouraged to cheer him on. While Seth Rogen’s Gabe Plotkin questions an aide’s suggestion that his wine collection might make a distasteful backdrop for his subpoena hearing, we’re laughing because we’re encouraged to see him as stupid. At every opportunity, the person in power is the butt of the joke.
Dumb Money is a thoughtful take on a true story. It’s funny without ever becoming satirical, and it rips apart the power structures that led to the story it tells with confidence and assurance. Its existence won’t inform the masses of how the stock markets work, but it does give a moral steer on whether it works in a way that is fair or not.
Written by Rob Jones