In summer of 2020 (at the pre-vaccine height of the Covid-19 crisis), Keith Gill, a financial analyst and self-described nerd working out of his basement, poured his young family’s life savings into the purchase of Gamestop stock. Gill had noticed Gamestop stock was falling, but he believed in the company’s future, and took the proverbial plunge. His friends in the industry told him this move was stupid. Gamestop was a video game retailer, still operating even during the age when most video game sales occurred online rather than in actual stores.
But Gill simply saw something in Gamestop, and believed hedge fund investment firms might begin to short sell Gamestop stock under the assumption that it would soon close. Gill even offered this financial advice on his weekly Youtube video, and his suggestion to buy Gamestop stock was seen by several hundred people.
This seemingly underwhelming blip on the massive Wall Street radar is the subject of Craig Gillespie’s new film “Dumb Money,” adapted from Ben Menrich’s 2021 book “The Antisocial Network” by screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo. Now, you might ask yourself why on earth any of us would care about some basement computer nerd foolishly buying stock in a losing brand. But Gill’s Youtube videos eventually caught on. Every week, he’d remark how the value of Gamestop stock had risen versus the week before. His viewers were taking note and buying the stock accordingly.
In January and February of 2021, Gamestop stock exploded, as thousands of online stock buyers defied the hedge fund investment firms and began buying massive amounts of the stock. Known as the Gamestop Short Squeeze, all previous assumptions about the ebb and flow of the stock market were thrown out the window. “Dumb Money” chronicles this phenomenon of the recent past.
Versatile Paul Dano plays Gill, and in an underdeveloped role, Shailene Woodley plays his wife Caroline. Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Sebastian Stan, and Seth Rogan play various hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and businessmen – the “bad guys” of the story.
On the surface, it wouldn’t seem as though there is enough material here for a full-length feature film. And there isn’t. So, Gillespie (via Menrich) wisely introduces us to several unrelated common-man Americans who take up Gill’s offer and purchase large amounts of stock in Gamestop. These include a Pittsburgh hospital nurse, played by America Ferrera (in her second straight outstanding supporting performance of the summer, following “Barbie”), two University of Texas at Austin coeds, played by Talia Ryder and Myha’la Herrold, and a local Gamestop employee played by Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” “In the Heights”).
Their stories are perhaps included to simply flesh out the screenplay, but they provide the meat of the narrative. Most of us don’t have a clue about stock trading, and a lot of the stock market verbiage feels as if it’s a foreign language. Therefore, the “common man” stories are what keep us engaged in this surprisingly interesting walk through the Gamestop Short Squeeze.
Having said that, I appreciate the fact that Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) doesn’t “dumb down” the stock market material. If we care and we are so inclined, we can look up terms like “hedge fund” and “short squeeze.” His job is to tell a story, and he wisely assumes a certain level of intelligence on our part.
By contrast, recall Adam McKay’s 2015 film “The Big Short,” which told the story of the 2007 housing bubble, and how it triggered the Great Recession of 2008. That picture was chock full of unnecessary asides, in which popular actors and comedians (who were not part of the cast) would insert themselves into the film to explain certain aspects of the stock market and financial trading. This technique might have sounded cute on paper, but in practice, it chopped up the narrative, and caused us to lose focus. Viewers were left thinking, “If he’s not any more serious about this material, why should I be invested in it?”
And even though Steve Carrell turned in one of the best performances of his career in “The Big Short,” there’s no such issue with the far superior “Dumb Money.” This may not be one of the year’s very best, and yes, it does feel as though the screenwriters are required to stretch the information into a full-length film, but it does hold our interest, and the result is, dare I say, exciting! Don’t skip this one simply because tales of the stock market sound dull and dry. You’ll spend more time on the edge of your seat with “Dumb Money” than you can imagine.