When Craig Gillespie’s quirky romantic dramedy Lars & the Real Girl (2007) was released, a lot of movie fans predicted the director of the indie sleeper hit to go on to interesting things. What viewers probably weren’t expecting was for him to pivot to the subgenre of satirical biopics with Gillespie’s critically successful I, Tonya (2017) and episodes of Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy” (2022).
His new historical comedy, Dumb Money, embraces this theme fully along with Ben Affleck’s Air and Matt Johnson’s BlackBerry. Gillespie’s film is also getting plenty of comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015), because it’s not the story of a specific, real-life business, but instead about a group of real people who tried to shake up Wall Street.
Just as global lockdowns and social distancing are beginning to ease up, Redditor and YouTuber Keith Gill (Paul Dano) makes posts and videos with stock market advice for people interested in investing. In January 2021, he unexpectedly skyrockets to notoriety when he suggests buying stock of the video game company GameStop, which is struggling to keep afloat.
Because Keith’s young followers see this “short squeeze” as a way to get back at the 1% on Wall Street, GameStop’s stock instantly spikes and makes Keith, along with new investors — such as hospital nurse Jenny Campbell (America Ferrera), GameStop store clerk Marcus Barcia (Anthony Ramos) and college students Riri (Myha’la) and Harmony (Talia Ryder) — suddenly rich overnight. Meanwhile, this surge is bad news for Melvin Capital owner Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), RobinHood app founders Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota), and hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin (Nick Offerman).
On the sidelines of this stock market chaos are Keith’s wife and mother of his daughter, Caroline (Shailene Woodley), his brother Kevin (Pete Davidson) and Gabe’s wife and mother of his kids, Yaara (Olivia Thirlby). Dumb Money has probably the most amusing and cringey anecdotes of any of the corporate biopics, which isn’t surprising since corners of Reddit and YouTube are both amusing and cringe inducing.
If you’re someone who is very active online and particularly on social media, the viral posts and memes will be a trip to revisit. The new film is adapted from Ben Mezrich’s 2021 non-fiction book The Antisocial Network. Mezrich also wrote The Accidental Billionaires (2009), which was the basis for David Fincher’s film The Social Network (2010).
If there’s one thing I wish Gillespie hadn’t altered, it’s the original book title, which I think is much more appropriate. Like The Big Short, Dumb Money spends a lot of time explaining the process of the stock market, including what exactly the term “dumb money” is. To those already familiar with Wall Street history and lingo, this could be redundant. To those new to it, it could still be complicated.
Of the cast, Dano, Woodley and Rogen are the standouts, perfectly cast as their characters. Davidson is effective comic relief and Thirlby reminds us she’s always a highlight on screen. Most interesting is how the filmmakers skip the token preachy, cynical speech about greed and corruption.
Dumb Money doesn’t bring anything completely new to the corporate biopic trend in cinema, but it is a breezy 105 minutes of viewing.