‘Dumb Money’: Paul Dano Becomes an Unlikely Folk Hero in Energetic Telling of the GameStop Stock Saga
Director Craig Gillespie takes an energetic and humorous dive into the GameStop stock craze in his latest feature, “Dumb Money,” in which Paul Dano gives another impressive and understated performance. Dano portrays Keith Gill, a mild-mannered financial analyst who put into motion a chain of events that upset Wall Street and beyond from the basement of his modest Boston-area home. Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo adapted the screenplay from “The Antisocial Network,” Ben Mezrich’s book detailing the GameStop meme stock trading frenzy of 2021, and the ensuing short squeeze.
The story begins in 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Keith is regularly making YouTube videos under the name Roaring Kitty. Observing that major hedge funds are out to short the video game retail chain GameStop, basically making money out of a failing company, Keith buys stock in GameStop and encourages his followers to do likewise, thus driving up its value. He also creates buzz on Reddit meme-stock forum WallStreetBets, a virtual gathering spot for amateur investors. Because Gill and his followers are retail investors, a.k.a. “dumb money,” the big-shot finance bros, including Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), the founder of Melvin Capital, and powerful hedge fund manager Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), are taken by surprise, to say the least.
At first glance, Keith and Gabe seem like total opposites, but as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that they have more in common than they both could ever realize. Both are married (Keith to the patient Caroline, played by Shailene Woodley) with young children, and Gabe, who is a self-made billionaire, does not come off as smug as he could be, and while it is amusing to see him losing his cool over what is happening, at least in the beginning, he is far from a villain or an object of ridicule, as Rogen does a great job of tapping into his human side. Although he comes from a middle class background, he is somewhat out of touch with what it is like to be “normal,” which makes for some humorous moments.
Rogen leaves all the smugness to Sebastian Stan, who plays Vlad Tenev, co-founder of stock-trading app Robinhood alongside Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota). Keith and his followers use the app to purchase their GameStop stock, and everything goes well until it doesn’t, as Vlad gets into some shady behind-the-scenes business. To put it mildly, no one can trust anyone in this world, except for someone with a kind heart like Keith’s.
All this drama is interwoven with the stories of the retail investors, all relatable in their own ways. Jenny (America Ferrera) is a nurse and single mother struggling to pay her mortgage. Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder portray a pair of college students, both saddled with student debt, whose exciting new romance coincides with the rise of GameStop. Anthony Ramos plays Marcus, a lowly clerk at GameStop who still lives with his parents and has to work early-morning shifts at a near-empty mall. Interesting fact: GameStop was deemed an essential business during lockdown due to its selling computer accessories. Although he is not an investor, Pete Davidson gets lots of laughs as Kevin, Keith’s slacker DoorDasher brother who helps keep him humble.
Finally, Gillespie, along with Schuker Blum and Angelo, does an excellent job of making the world of the film feel accessible. One does not need to be well-versed in the world of stocks to understand what is happening. The film is neither dumb-downed or overwhelmed with jargon. And while “Dumb Money” is very illuminating when it comes to class disparity, the filmmakers avoid lectures on the evils of capitalism and greed. They succeed very well when it comes to showing over telling.
“Dumb Money” releases Sept. 15 in select theaters, expanding Sept. 22 and opening in theaters nationwide Sept. 29.