TIFF REVIEW – ‘Dumb Money’ is a solid crowdpleaser that gets the job done

Given we were all mostly staying home in early 2021 amidst pandemic paranoia, you likely heard something about the shocking rapid increase in the stock price of struggling American video game retailer GameStop. Maybe you were even intrigued enough to pay attention to how it was fueled by a bunch of Reddit users who blindsided seasoned Wall Street professionals and got rich in the process. Maybe you were even one of them.

Barely two years later and it’s already time for a Hollywood adaptation of this bizarre true story. An extremely entertaining, often hilarious, and strangely inspiring film, Dumb Money soars on the strength of its sublime ensemble cast and its rousing David vs. Goliath narrative. While it owes a lot to films like The Social Network, The Big Short and Moneyball, it’s a solid crowdpleaser that gets the job done.

The film centres on lovable regular guy Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a low-level financial broker who spends his free time streaming stock market advice under the YouTube username Roaring Kitty and on Reddit as DeepFuckingValue. With his no-nonsense, passionate approach to investment banking and full transparency of his balance sheets, Keith has built a small but intensely loyal online following that hangs on his every word.

With the full support of his loving wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley), Keith makes the seemingly ridiculous decision to invest more than $50K in GameStop stock. Almost overnight, his posts start to go viral, inspiring an unexpected movement of people willing to blindly follow Keith’s lead including single mum/nurse Jenny (America Ferrera), frustrated GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos), and broke college kids Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder).

The exponentially rising stock price naturally attracts the attention of Wall Street, particularly hedge fund managers Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), who have poured millions into betting against GameStop in the hope of the company’s failure. As Keith holds firm and the stock refuses to tumble, the powers that be will do anything to quell this online rebellion.

The inner workings of Wall Street are likely out of the realm of understanding for your average cinemagoer, including yours truly. Thankfully, director Craig Gillespie takes what could be a dreadfully complex and befuddling narrative and distils it into something easily accessible to all audiences. Screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo take care to explain the complicated details of a “short squeeze” in layman’s terms that anyone can follow. You won’t walk away a financial guru, but you’re not left scratching your head either.

It’s hard not to be inspired by this unlikely victorious tale of the little guys sticking it to the big man, particularly as all corners of the globe continue to struggle with post-COVID inflation blues. It helps to feature a cast of characters you actually give a damn about and ones most of us will quickly empathise with. Even with multiple storylines to manage, Gillespie makes sure his players all resonate with an audience, no matter how briefly they’re featured.

You want to see Keith be proven correct and his outrageous gamble pay off for those smart (or maybe stupid) enough to follow him. Heck, you’ll wish you could jump in a time machine and join Roaring Kitty’s bizarre crusade that could only occur in the social media-mad times of the 21st century. Dano is perfectly cast as this humble Joe Blow who is easy to root for. He captures Keith’s bombastic online persona and balances it with the devoted husband and father who was only ever in this game to secure a future for his family.

Ferrara continues her solid 2023 with another compassionate supporting turn, while Ramos is terrific as an exacerbated retail employee looking for a way out. Rogen and Offerman are perfectly smarmy as the weasels of Wall Street who are only outdone by a detestable Sebastian Stan as the co-CEO of investment app Robinhood that becomes possibly the biggest villain of the entire film. But the film’s secret ace to play is surprisingly Pete Davidson as Keith’s brother, Kevin. What begins as nothing but a silly comedic part becomes something else entirely, gifting Davidson layers to play with in ways you won’t expect.

With razor sharp editing from Oscar-winner Kirk Baxter and occasional compilations of memes, news clips, and on-screen graphics, the film moves at a whipping pace to come in at just over 100 minutes long. That helps the narrative avoid dwelling on the dull intricacies of stock market trading, but it does mean Gillespie fails to examine the toxic online culture that was permeating beneath all the fun of this GameStop heist. Not everyone engaged in Keith’s good guy war was in it for the right reasons and no one involved in this film seems interested in exploring that too deeply.

Regardless, there’s a lot to love about Dumb Money, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of other similarly-themed true life tech/investment stories. With references to masks, vaccines, and stimulus cheques, it’s a snapshot of a time that somehow already feels nostalgic. But, more importantly, it’s a feel-good tale of how a gang of rebels twisted a rigged system into knots and finally scored a victory for the little guy.

Distributor: Roadshow
Cast: Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogen
Director: Craig Gillespie
Producers: Aaron Ryder, Teddy Schwarzman, Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Lauren Schuker Blum, Rebecca Angelo
Cinematography: Nikolas Karakatsanis
Production Design: Scott Kuzio
Costume Design: Kameron Lennox
Music: Will Bates
Editor: Kirk Baxter
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: 5th October 2023 (Australia), 22nd September 2023 (US)

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