Fun Dumb Money is a Satirical Yelp of Crowd-Pleasing Social Commentary
Dumb Money is a satirical yelp of social commentary chronicling the GameStop short squeeze of 2021. It primarily follows real-life YouTuber Keith Gill (a superb Paul Dano), aka “Roaring Kitty,” as he shouts into the social media void his confident belief that the floundering gaming company’s stock price was severely undervalued. This puts him at odds with multibillion-dollar hedge fund managers, including Melvin Capital founder Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), all of whom think Gill and his followers are insane — and about to lose their proverbial shirts — for betting against them.
It’s a ripped-from-the-headlines story, and it’s so unabashedly absurd, it obviously has to be true. Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Cruella) and writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo (adapting Ben Mezrich’s book The Antisocial Network) keep things bouncy and light, playing up the “little guys” who took on the Wall Street “fat cats” more than they attempt to make any broader observations about the uneven playing field all of the participants are competing upon.
This makes for a fun time at the movie theater, but not an especially edifying one. Thankfully, the humor is strong enough for the lack of depth to not matter nearly as much as it otherwise would. Dano is wonderful as Gill, and the supporting cast is filled with crackerjack character actors, all of whom deliver the emotional and comedic goods. The film also boasts a superb ending, one that is as quietly understated as it is cathartically effective, and it’s no wonder my packed preview audience burst into applause.
The best thing the film does is keep its focus on Gill, specifically his relationships with his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), his parents Steve (Clancy Brown) and Elaine (Kate Burton), and his nincompoop brother Kevin (Pete Davidson). The naturalism of their interactions is frequently wonderful. They’ve felt the pandemic’s pain, and they’re all doing the best they can to get through it in their own ways. But they’re also determined to do it together, and this comforting dynamic full of empathy, pain, compassion, understanding, and most of all love tugged at my heartstrings something fierce.
What does not work quite as well are the examinations of the hedge fund players. Rogen has a couple of nice scenes with Olivia Thirlby (playing Gabe’s icily intelligent wife Yaara), but otherwise he wanders through things with a look of intense befuddlement that’s coupled with a physical deportment akin to a constant state of scratchy constipation. The film also doesn’t really know what to do with his character, either, and this uncertainty unavoidably bleeds into Rogen’s overall performance.
But that’s better than how Nick Offerman or Vincent D’Onofrio are handled. The latter makes the most positive impression, but that’s only because he’s clearly having a blast cutting loose as his character (fellow billionaire Steve Cohen, who helps bail out Gabe when he’s at his lowest) exuberantly cheers Gill on from the sidelines. This is because Cohen doesn’t have as much skin in the game against this David as most of his fellow Goliaths do, so his joy in seeing his brethren being taken to the cleaners only exists because he has so much less to lose.
Offerman’s character, rich Wall Street fat cat Ken Griffin, who makes Gordon Gekko look like the little green lizard his name reminds one of, is undeniably supposed to be the story’s true villain, but I didn’t know any more about him or how he operated after it all ended as I did when he was introduced. I only know he’s awful because even his fellow hedge fund operators continually state how much they hate him, and while Offerman exudes just the right aura of detached superiority, I still wish Gillespie and his creative team would have given him more to work with.
The remaining members of the ensemble include the likes of America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Talia Ryder, Dane DeHaan, Sebastian Stan, Rushi Kota, and Myha’la, and all get at least one moment to shine. Ferrera, Ramos, Ryder, and Myha’la get the most to do, and I pretty much loved them all, but Stan — playing Robinhood investment app cofounder Vlad Tenev — has a bit where he fails miserably to bluff his way through a television interview, and it’s so painfully amusing that my side began to hurt from laughing so hard.
Ultimately, I keep coming back to Dano. There’s something about what he’s doing that fascinated me. He makes Gill leap off the screen, and even when the film refuses to fully eviscerate the billionaire elitists and the systems that allow them to exist with few (if any) constraints as it’s apparent it would like to, the actor’s spellbindingly minimalist performance kept my eyes glued to the screen. Dumb Money is Gill’s Campbell-esque hero’s journey, and thanks to Dano, it’s one I’m very glad I went on.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)