Craig Gillespie, best known for I Tonya, has made a highly entertaining film of the 2021 GameStop stock controversy. Paul Dano is enigmatic as Keith Gill, a YouTube financial guru who, working with cheesy gimmicks, made a name broadcasting stock market advice from his basement in an everyday Massachusetts town.
Gill’s defining epiphany – if we can so dignify such a thing – came with the realisation that shares in GameStop, the old-school tech store, were potentially undervalued. After he urged followers to buy, the stocks soared, thus inconveniencing big-name hedge funds which were betting on GameStop’s imminent failure. The mansion-dwelling, claret-swilling supremos were, however, initially not much worried. They saw amateur investors, staking relatively small amounts, as dealing in “dumb money”. Yet the shares continued to soar, eventually leading to suspicious shutdowns from online brokers.
Gillespie frames the divide in us-and-them terms. Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen play the establishment figures as isolated snoots. When Rogen, as real-life investment officer Gabe Plotkin, is finally required to show his face on a video conference, his advisers struggle to find a background in his home that doesn’t reveal indecent wealth. Meanwhile, Gill and his increasingly fretful wife (Shailene Woodley) live blue-collar lives in homes with fewer personal chefs or groaning wine cellars. Elsewhere, hard-working fictionalised schlubs take a chance on Gill’s tip and find their investment soaring. America Ferrera is particularly engaging as a struggling health worker from Pittsburgh. Will she sell in time? Her tens of thousands mean a lot more in personal terms than do Gabe Plotkin’s tens of millions.
As in I Tonya, Gillespie reveals a sympathy for commonplace American lives and a determination to find humour in looming catastrophe. We are used to films on stock-market mayhem dealing with Masters of the Universe. Here we are more likely to be laughing as Gill makes fruitless efforts to explain the increasing mayhem to his dosser of a brother (Pete Davidson, making something of little) while their unglamorous family yells in the background.
For all its undeniable pleasures, Dumb Money, derived from Ben Mezrich’s book The Antisocial Network, feels just a little shallow. The scenario is established. The shares rise. We progress towards an ambiguous close with few dramatic reversals. Furthermore, the film seems unsure of where it stands on the motivations behind Gill’s strategy. Forgiving viewers are permitted to see the plan as a pocket insurrection. Cynics will note that almost everybody on screen – from mogul to impoverished student – is, though their needs may differ, in search of exactly the same thing. That thing comes in wads and it makes up half the film’s title. All this could happen again tomorrow.