Film Review: Dumb Money
Director: Craig Gillespie
Stage 6 Films and Black Bear Pictures
In Theaters: 09.22
The underdog story is a tried-and-true formula, whether it’s David vs. Goliath or Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. In the case of Dumb Money, it’s average people vs. the Wall Street power brokers in the ultimate showdown.
Dumb Money is the true story of an everyday hero who defied the Wall Street establishment and got rich during the height of the pandemic by making GameStop’s stock the hottest on the market. Keith Gill (Paul Dano, The Batman, The Fabelmans) is a YouTuber who sinks his life savings into the stock and creates buzz by talking up his passion for the stock online, with Reddit followers turning it into one of the biggest discussions in the cyberverse. As a stock tip becomes a movement, everyone gets rich—until the billionaires strike back, and both sides find their worlds turned upside down.
Dumb Money juggles many characters and story elements while also attempting to provide social commentary. It’s tempting to compare it to the works of Adam McKay, in particular The Big Short. The primary difference here is that screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo (Orange is the New Black) and director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya; Cruella) favor a more focused and less in-your-face approach. There are no smug, fourth-wall breaking speeches, and the characters and the story are the primary focus at all times. Gillespie does make use of some well-executed montage sequences and jumping from character to character gives us a feel for the internet’s role in all of this—it’s remarkable how well this works even with so much shifting around, and the commitment to storytelling makes for a hilarious and satisfying film. It’s fascinating to see the America of just a couple of years ago captured so perfectly in a time capsule—preserving the mood and atmosphere of the times with an emphasis on masking and social distancing—without it ever feeling over-milked.
Dano is perfectly cast as Keith, anchoring the film with his down-to-earth charm, passion and intelligence. It’s easy to believe that people are catching Keith’s vision and following him on this journey. Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now, To Catch a Killer) gives one of her strongest performances in years as Keith’s wife, Caroline, and Pete Davidson—formerly of Saturday Night Live—steals the movie as Kevin, Keith’s slacker brother. When Kevin argues that his job driving for DoorDash constitutes being a “first responder,” I was rolling in the aisles, and Davidson embraces the opportunity to get big laughs trading off of his persona while still making Kevin a character who adds to the overall story. America Ferrera once again shows that the perfect, modern, everyman character is a Latina, and as Jennifer, a single mother ER nurse, she provides the blue collar, working person’s perspective needed to emotionally invest us in the story’s stakes. Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman and Vincent D’Onofrio give us greedy antagonists to root against without turning them into mustache-twirling villains.
Dumb Money may be the most pleasant surprise I’ve had at the movies all year. It’s a smart and funny look at the American economic system based around a rousing true story about sticking it to the man. It’s the first truly great mainstream movie of the fall season. Here’s a hot tip: Get in on the fun with Dumb Money right now. –Patrick Gibbs