Dumb Money (2023) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Dumb Money ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The story of a group of ordinary people who get rich by turning a video game store into the world’s hottest company. Out in cinemas now.

Dumb Money is the ultimate David vs. Goliath story, based on the astonishing true incident from the very recent 2021, during which a group of everyday people turned a little-known company named GameStop into a global sensation, defying the rules of Wall Street.

GameStop is a video game retailer that had seen better days with the rise of online gaming. The pandemic seemed to seal its fate, and the short-sellers were circling like vultures. Enter Keith Gill, played by the always-talented Paul Dano, a small-time analyst and broker who by night turns into a redditor (here’s a new world I’ve learnt!) and YouTuber, posting videos and engaging on mysterious social platforms that I can’t even pretend to understand.

Gill believes that GameStop stock was undervalued and he starts investing his life savings in it. His enthusiasm triggered a movement among his followers and all of a sudden they all become rich, challenging the established Wall Street system. That is until the billionaires start to fight back.

Dumb Money (apparently that’s the term that hedge fund people call small investors) is fast and dense, outrageously funny and at the same time infuriating. With its constant use of memes, quick editing and strong language it clearly wants to reflect the young and vibrant personalities it’s trying to depict.

It’s easy to draw comparisons to The Big Short from 2015, as both films try to navigate a complicated territory, while at the same time remaining accessible to audiences, using a witty and irreverent approach and a satirical tone to shed light on the madness of the financial world.

As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of finance, I had to strain my brain to keep up with it and to be completely honest, some of it went straight over my head.

In fact, the film knows very well that most of the audience will get lost in some of the financial jargon and cleverly makes the emotional journey of the characters the main focus of the story. So even if you do get a bit confused about the ins and outs of the Wall Street games, you’ll still be able to root for the heroes, get moved, angered and most importantly, laugh.

Director Craig Gillespie, known for his work on I, Tonya, puts viewers in the shoes of the characters, allowing us to experience the thrill of a successful gamble as well as the devastating impact of losing fortunes in a single day. By connecting with the characters on an emotional level, the film successfully navigates through some of the denser details of the story.

The ethics surrounding the GameStop phenomenon are complex too, and Dumb Money doesn’t shy away from this messiness, but of course this is a simplified version of events and it’s easy to see where the director’s sympathies reside: it’s all black and white for us to see and the ultimate goal seems to be to remind us that the game is rigged.

Cheap rhetoric maybe? Possibly yes, but it works perfectly.

The rich will always be rich, so let’s have some fun at their expense. How can you not go along with that?

Although Gill may not be a straightforward modern-day Robin Hood, it’s difficult to have any sympathy for the hedge fund investors at the receiving end of his audacious plan.

The “little people” who are played by several talented actors, including America Ferrera, Talia Ryder, Myha’la Herrold, and Anthony Ramos, (this is a huge cast with many storylines juggled at the same time) perfectly capture the spirit of the online crowd that orchestrated the short squeeze. They’re relatable and sympathetic, while of course, the millionaire and billionaire vultures, like Seth Rogen as Gabe Plotkin and Nick Offerman as Ken Griffin, ooze sliminess.

With a soundtrack full of hip-hop and stylish split-screens and montages, Dumb Money cruises along at a breath-taking pace. It manages to infuse comedy while maintaining an underlying tension throughout. “I wanted it to be like a pressure cooker” said the director in a Q&A which followed my screening of the film. And he certainly succeeds in that.

On top of all this, the eerie backdrop of COVID adds another layer to the film, with masks, empty malls, and desolate streets creating an almost dystopian atmosphere. It’s weird how it feels like a period piece set in the midst of a pandemic and yet, it’s just a few years ago.

But that’s another story, one which we’re all trying to leave behind.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

Dumb Money is out in cinemas across the country.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali