dumb money review

Dumb Money is kinda dumb and maybe a little evil?

2 out of 5 stars

Craig Gillespie has had a strange trajectory in Hollywood. Since his feature debut, Lars and the Real Girl, an indie hit starring Ryan Gosling about a man in love with a sex doll, he’s stepped into an increasingly uncommon role as a journeyman filmmaker. He’s made films across the genre spectrum, from comedy with Mr. Woodcock to horror remakes with Fright Night, sports films like Million Dollar Arm, Disney villain films like Cruella and action-adventure-thrillers like The Finest Hours

Yet, for all that self-effacing diversity, he’s also carved a niche for himself as a director of “true stories,” recently helming the pop-art/post-modern retellings of Tonya Harding (I, Tonya), Mike Tyson (Mike) and Pamela Anderson & Tommy Lee (Pam & Tommy). His most recent “based on a true story” film, Dumb Money, depicts the epic pandemic rise and fall of GameStop stock. 

Unlike some of Gillespie’s other true stories, Dumb Money doesn’t really explore the unreliability of truth. Though a huge, recent story, the movie aims low and only offers to clarify the events of the GameStop Short Squeeze with a feel-good story thrown in for good measure. The film tells the parallel story of streamer Keith Gill (Paul Dano), whose financial advice on Twitch helped bring attention to the subReddit WallStreetBets and wealthy hedge-fund Melvin Capital Management CEO Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), who shorted the stock and ran his company into the ground. 

Dumb Money review
Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen in Dumb Money

If you’ve seen Adam McKay’s The Big Short, you have some sense of Dumb Money‘s tone. Leaning into comedy to clarify the complex, or at least opaque inner workings of the American financial market, Dumb Money focuses on the everyman. Only a few years from the actual events, which took place in 2020 and 2021, the film works hard to combine the many different threads and characters to create a clear and cohesive narrative.

Passively entertaining, the film operates as a jokey kind of Wikipedia page. It positions Keith Gill and other enthusiastic “dumb money” investors as folk heroes. The movie celebrates their unity and willingness to sacrifice immediate wealth to be part of a community but does little to emphasize the overall ineffectual nature of collective action in contemporary America. Though the film offers context that underlines how unusual the context of the squeeze is, it relies heavily on presenting the events as empowering. The idea that the “power of the people” has the influence to exercise long-term changes on the ultra-wealthy is absurd. The movie fails to suggest that the short squeeze exercised any meaningful change in the industry, glossing over the fact that these events will likely fail to impact the financial sector. 

While it is refreshing to see the working class and everyman get their due and even band together, their minor win only underscores how unfair the system is. Rather than a feel-good story, Dumb Money’s overenthusiasm in depicting small victories ignores a harsh reality. It presents billionaires as bumbling eccentrics who play with other people’s lives like a slot machine. While it plays off Gabe Plotkin’s loss as a win against big money, it ignores that Gabe suffered no real consequences for his actions and, to this day, seems as successful as ever. The film’s soft humour and gentle gaze do an incredible disservice to the authentic and terrible situation most working-class Americans deal with daily. 

The result is a film that feels half-finished and lacking in perspective. Dumb Money tells the story of a tiny victory that is not inspiring as much as it is entirely soul-crushing. Being cute and light-hearted does little to soften the fact that the system is rigged. In failing to be realistic, the film inadvertently upholds the financial system it purports to cut down. Craig Gillespie’s filmmaking here showcases why he’s able to fit into so many different filmmaking moulds: he’s harmless and does little to challenge the status quo. Though his films are dressed up as big, important stories about our present, they offer almost no insight into how these stories shape our world — they’re not challenging or especially smart. At best, Dumb Money is background entertainment; at worst, it’s kind of evil. ■

Dumb Money (directed by Craig Gillespie)

Dumb Money opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Sept. 22.

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