It is only appropriate that Sony’s terrific new comedy Dumb Money starts with the Columbia Pictures logo. That was the studio that Frank Capra famously helped build with his movies where the little guy triumphs over the corporate bad guys. Dumb Money is positively Capra-esque in the way it tells its improbable David vs. Goliath story about how an internet geek started a movement that blew up the heretofore loser stock of shopping mall game store GameStop and became the toast of Wall Street, while bankrupting a couple of billionaire hedge funds in the process. It movie had its world premiere tonight at the Toronto Film Festival before its theatrical release later this month.
On its most basic level Dumb Money hits on the financial frustrations of everyday Americans fed up with the billionaire class, and dreaming of a fantasy to get rich quick themselves. This phenomenon that took the financial world by surprise only started at the beginning of 2021 but for a time it turned the markets upside down and changed a lot of lives. As one analyst said “it is the French Revolution of Wall Street.”
Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Lars And The Real Girl) clearly loves offbeat stories and he has one here thanks to a great cast of characters and a sharp script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, two former Wall Street Journal reporters who only started the script in April and May of 2021 basing it on a book proposal for “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich, whose previous work became the basis for the Oscar winning The Social Network.
At its center is Keith Gill (aka Roaring Kitty) , a lowly Boston financial analyst by day who presides over an internet show in his home where he likes to talk in nerdy ways (sporting a red bandana and kitties T-Shirt) about various things happening in stocks. One day he reveals he put $55,000 into the losing GameStop stock just because he thinks it is way undervalued and loves it. So, it is a passion project, but one that thanks to the reach of the internet suddenly catches fire and turns into a big concern eventually for the hedge funds that have shorted the stock. Chief among these is Melvin Capital, run by Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) who believes since anyone can download games, the mall store is a dinosaur and the company is bound to go under so he pours money into shorting it, meaning he is betting on a fail. His billionaire supporters Ken Griffin (a hilarious Nick Offerman) and Streve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) agree as they sit in their mansions.
Don’t underestimate the power of the little guy in large numbers, and soon the GameStop stock is exploding to unheard of numbers, something that only increases when the Robinhood app run by Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) gets involved by fueling the rise in making the stock affordable for these “retail” buyers Wall Street so looks down on, calling it “dumb money” vs their “smart money”. All the networks start paying attention and it becomes a genuine national phenom, even to the point of getting the serious attention of the White House and Congress. What a story. What a wildly enteraining stand-up-and-cheer populist movie. Capra would love it.
Dumb Money is a cinematic cousin of movies like The Social Network, The Big Short, Moneyball, but it stands apart from those by throwing in an emotional component and enormous heart. It also has much in common structurally with an emerging genre in 2023, the so-called product movie which tracks the beginnings, the rise,and the fall sometimes of well known entities. We have had Air, Tetris, Flamin’ Hot, BlackBerry, The Beanie Bubble , and now with its own twist on GameStop, Dumb Money. Each of these movies is anchored by a down-on-their-luck true believer who hits the zeitgeist in one way or another, but finds trouble along the way.
The casting could not be better. Dano is ideal as Gill, a quirky guy to root for who represents what we once thought of as the custodian of the American Dream, a new age Jimmy Stewart. Rogen is a riot as a hedge fund manipulator who slowly watches his life pass before his eyes as the stock goes up, not down. Among the rest of the cast Shailene Woodley is lovely as Gill’s wife who has lived with his all-consuming obsession with GameStop; America Ferrera as Jenny, a Pittsburgh nurse and true blue follower of Gill’s every move; Anthony Ramos as Marcus, a GameStop clerk who finds the ticket to a lot more than his base salary standing behind the cash register; and Pete Davidson as Kevin, the rather dimwitted but loving brother of Keith.
What is really remarkable about Dumb Money is the pace of production, almost side by side with changing events in the world in which it is set. Shot in 31 days, the movie will be in theatres just over two years since a script was turned in. That is remarkable because this isn’t some cheap ripped-from-the-headlines quickie, but a top quality film that its major studio is planning a large awards season campaign around. It deserves that consideration, and it deserves your consideration for a genuine and smart crowd pleaser this Fall.
Producers are Aaron Ryder, Teddy Schwartzman, and Gillespie. By the way those twins from Social Network, Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss and their Winklevoss Pictures shingle are among the Executive Producers.
Title: Dumb Money
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Festival: Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations)
Release date: September 15, 2023 (Limited); September 29, 2023 (wide)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriters: Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo
Cast: Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson, Shailene Woodley, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan
Running time: 1 hr 40 min