Review: 'Dumb Money' is a David and Goliath story for our time
What's not to like?
You won't need a crash course in Stock Tips for Dummies to appreciate the underdog appeal of "Dumb Money," now in theaters collecting a windfall of laughs as it celebrates the stand-up-and-cheer victory, however short-lived, of little-guy investors over billionaire hedge fund jerks.
What's not to like? Based on Ben Mezrich's nonfiction book "The Antisocial Network," the film starts during the pandemic winter of 2021 when small-time financial analyst Keith Gill, played with mild manner and killer intuition by a thoroughly invested Paul Dano ("The Fabelmans"), takes a small bet on GameStop, a retail franchise that sells video games in shopping malls.
The wolves of Wall Street, represented by Gabe Plotkin (a tightly coiled Seth Rogen), sold the stock short, thinking GameStop was headed for bankruptcy and that Gill, a headband-wearing Reddit influencer and YouTube sensation making calls from his basement as Roaring Kitty, was leading a "dumb money" expedition to nowhere.
The boneheaded speculation was all Plotkin's. Gill, with a wife (a kind of wasted Shailene Woodley) and baby daughter to support, thought GameStop was undervalued at $4 a share. He loved the place and invested accordingly, starting a grassroots movement of amateurs that brought Plotkin and other billionaire short sellers to their knees. For a while at least.
"Dumb Money" is a David and Goliath story for our time -- meaning David goes from rags to riches before Goliath regains the edge -- directed by Craig Gillespie, a wizard of mischief whose "I, Tonya" also held up a mirror to the class divide in America that fed into public anger at wealth disparity among fat cats rarely held accountable for their abuses.
The Goliaths are familiar real-life masters of the universe: Besides Rogen's Plotkin, whose hedge fund went down, there's Plotkin's mentor Steve Cohen (a fab Vincent D'Onofrio) and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), the financial titan who's on record calling this film sensationalized and worse.
Is it? You be the judge. Look closely and you'll see that screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo have built a comedy of shocking gravity about the continuing plague of jackpot chasing. When all is said and done, institutional investors are still calling the shots.
Still, the film belongs to the kid with the slingshot. The son of a nurse (Kate Burton) and a trucker (Clancy Brown), Gill gets a Spartacus thing going as a Massachusetts working stiff who incites an uprising that lasts until Congress starts investigating and Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), co-founder of the trading app Robinhood, puts a lid on greenhorn stock trading with no fees.
Got that? Despite lapses in storytelling and a miasma of trader jargon, "Dumb Money" gets its points across without resorting to the sexy tricks that everyone recalls from "The Big Short" in which Margot Robbie memorably explained subprime mortgages while sipping champagne in a bubble bath. School was never like this.
Instead, the slapstick tragedy that is "Dumb Money" bubbles over with a humanity that gives us a rooting interest in characters fighting a toxic system. Says Gill at the start, before his world falls apart, "I'm gonna pick a stock and tell you why I think it's interesting." He sure did.