“A lot of people feel the system is broken,” says Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty — the somewhat unlikely protagonist of Craig Gillespie’s pseudo-biopic “Dumb Money” — as played by “The Batman’s” Paul Dano.
In that superhero blockbuster, Dano donned a mask to exact intricately murderous revenge against Gotham’s elite as The Riddler . In “Dumb Money,” his motivations aren’t so different. Dano may have swapped out The Riddler’s Zodiac-esque aesthetic for a red bandana and a preoccupation with cats, but he still craves comeuppance for the rich and powerful — in this case, the hedge fund managers who arrogantly sought to “short” GameStop stock in 2020.
Indeed, drawing clear inspiration from movies like Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” or Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Gillespie is concerned with exposing the corruption and hypocrisy on Wall Street that effectively rigs the game against “the little guy” in favor of “smart money” investors. Is he successful in this endeavor? Well … sort of.
“Dumb Money” starts off strong, tracking the awkwardly charismatic Gill as he streams his amateur investing tips for the viewing pleasure of internet forum regulars and penny stock traders. Among his viewers are high-strung nurse Jenny (America Ferrera), anti-establishment college students Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder) and the confident GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos).
Together, spurred on by Gill’s full-throated endorsement of the GameStop stock as an explosively profitable investment option, each character — and thousands of other faceless disruptors — purchase significant chunks of the failing video game conglomerate’s stock.
Of course, it just so happens that many of the major players on Wall Street — Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogan), Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) have done the exact opposite, either betting against GameStop with an eye on scooping up enormous profits when the company fails, or (and perhaps even worse in the case of Griffin and his fund, Citadel Capital) bailing out their bovine billionaire buddies when things inevitably go south.And go south they do.
Needless to say, Gill and his disciples begin to make life difficult for the high-rollers, sparking a class warfare firestorm that, for the duration of “Dumb Money’s” 104-minute running time, consumes Wall Street.
It’s compelling stuff, made all the better by Dano’s earnest, milquetoast take on Gill, as well as the general quality of the film’s supporting cast. Like it or not, audiences aren’t exactly going to be “hooked” by a movie about stocks, regardless of how newsworthy the events are. Therefore, it is critical that every character in “Dumb Money” be either sympathetic, hilarious or charismatic, something which the film delivers from start to finish.
Some praise must also be lavished upon “Dumb Money’s” decision to bifurcate the story into several different threads, not all of which are focused purely upon Gill and his online activities.
The GameStop incident wasn’t interesting because of a single streamer; it was interesting precisely because it was not coordinated, a simple fact that drives home the general public’s dissatisfaction with America’s division of wealth and the current state of the stock exchange. It is just as important to observe Jenny, Riri, Harmony and Marcus in their day-to-day life as it is to peer over Gill’s shoulder as he adds another zero to his “profits” spreadsheet.
Yet, one can’t help but feel like the film, at times, ties itself into a knot. At its heart, it seems to be hedging toward an anti-establishment, anti-billionaire message — again, à la “The Big Short.” But it never quite reconciles with the fact that (a) all of its “good guys” seem to have some degree of interest in getting rich and (b) the system of the stock market itself is an iconic symbol of the very status quo that the would-be protagonists are rebelling against, not some mechanism for social mobility. Can one really wax philosophical about the moral bankruptcy of the rich and powerful while participating in the purest distillation of capitalism there is?
I am particularly perplexed by the climax of “Dumb Money,” in which all of the formerly poor characters find themselves — by virtue of their shrewd market activities — extremely well-off. It’s spun as some sort of Cinderella story, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing the point. The whole movie implies that wealth is the great corruptor, but if our protagonists become wealthy … what then? Clearly, we are meant to root for them, but — given all of the legwork that “Dumb Money” undertakes up until the denouement to convince us that exorbitant cash reserves are nothing but trouble — the victory rings somewhat hollow.
So should you see “Dumb Money?” Frankly, the answer is still a “yes,” given its many strengths. But be sure to view it with a critical eye, no matter how much you — in the words of Roaring Kitty — “like the stock.”