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'Dumb Money' Review

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September 9, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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Dumb Money premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures will release it in limited theaters on September 15, followed by a nationwide expansion on October 06.

The Big Short, Vice, and Don’t Look Up writer/director Adam McKay has been accused by his detractors of thinking his audience is stupid, talking down to them through flashy celebrity cameos and on-the-nose dialogue. It’s not an incorrect opinion, but McKay has still always provided a compelling argument within his theses, with The Big Short offering a sobering retelling of the housing crisis. Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money, premiering at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, REALLY wants to be The Big Short for Gen-Z, taking down the 1%ers who run Wall Street and rig it against the little guy. But this David vs. Goliath story doesn’t have the necessary charm or smarts to be as deadly as it thinks it is.

“Hold the line!,” “Diamond hands!,” “Apes together strong,” and “I just like the stock,” were phrases that became popularized during the pandemic as the GameStop short squeeze rocked not just the financial industry, but the psyche of the American public. It all started on r/wallstreetbets, an internet forum famous for its memes and overly passionate members. Their prophet was Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a mild-mannered Massachusetts financial advisor who goes by “Roaring Kitty” because of his penchant use of cats in his live streams. He’s bullish on the GameStop (GME) stock, thinking that’s it undervalued and that all the hedge fund managers are fools to be in a short position. He seems crazy, but he has the numbers and quirkiness to attract other followers, including debt-ridden nurse Jenny (America Ferrera), GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos), and college students Riri (Myha'la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder). “If he’s in, I’m in” is what they all say, creating a surge in the stock price as more and more people jump on.

Most of these traders were referred to as “dumb money” by the hedge funds and media. They’re just retail traders who always think they can beat the market but end up giving their money away to the big fish. Writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, adapting the novel “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich, have compassion for these small fries. They’ve all been pushed down their whole lives, and the time is now to stand together. Unfortunately, none of these characters are that compelling outside of Keith, which largely stems from Dano’s charismatic commitment to playing the intellectual fool. They end up being a generic group, with little to separate themselves. The same goes for the villainous billionaires played by Seth Roge, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Nick Offerman. They’re caricatures of unearned wealth, another in a quickly tiring line found in Triangle of Sadness and Glass Onion last year.

Gillespie continues his high-energy antics from I, Tonya (also premiering in Toronto in 2017) and Cruella, zipping the editing around this overstuffed cast. It keeps the film on its toes and the 100-minute runtime breezy, but it also keeps the details to a minimum. The exact (or even simplified) machinations of the short squeeze are given little attention, replaced by bright lights and a flurry of newsreel clips.

Just like the memes that inspired the movement, Dumb Money is fun in the moment, but has little to no substance underneath the surface. If you’re looking for entertainment, you get just enough of it to make this worthwhile. If you’re looking to be educated on this event, I’d recommend literally anything else.

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