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Dumb Money

Directed by Craig Gillespie
Produced by Aaron Ryder, Craig Gillespie, and Teddy Schwarzman
Screenplay by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo Based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich
With: Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D'Onofrio, America Ferrera, Myha'la Herrold, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Seth Rogen, Talia Ryder, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Kate Burton, Clancy Brown, Rushi Kota, Larry Owens, Dane DeHaan, and Olivia Thirlby
Cinematography: Nicolas Karakatsanis
Editing: Kirk Baxter
Music: Will Bates
Runtime: 105 min
Release Date: 29 September 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

Director Craig Gillespie applies the same blundering lack of finesse he brought to I, Tonya, Cruella, and the TV miniseries Pam & Tommy to this adaptation of Ben Mezrich's non-fiction book The Antisocial Network. A prolific author, Mezrich has a knack for chronicling the true-life adventures of brilliant young rulebreakers who employ whatever means necessary to achieve their disruptive goals. Of the twenty-four books he's written in his nineteen-year career, the best known are Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which was made into the film 21, and The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal, which was (kind of) made into The Social Network. As with The Accidental Billionaires, The Antisocial Network was optioned before it was finished (in fact, The Antisocial Network was optioned before Mezrich even started writing it). 

The story centers on day trader and internet personality Keith Gill (Paul Dano). One day, Gill decided to bet against the hedge fund managers shorting the stock of brick-and-mortar video game company GameStop. He sank his life savings into a hefty stock buy and made online videos explaining his rationale. He wasn't taken seriously at first, but soon, others bought enough GameStop stock to send its market price soaring. When his posts on Reddit went viral, Gill's little scheme became a national movement designed not only to get rich on a long shot but also to fuck with the venture capitalist assholes who wanted the antiquated gaming company to tank. All the retail traders and casual investors who plowed their limited funds into GameStop did get rich, especially Gill, until the billionaires colluded and called in favors from their influential friends in an attempt to reset the market back to the status quo they'd enjoyed manipulating in their more traditional, congressionally-approved ways.

It was a fascinating chapter in recent history that affected many people's understanding and view of the stock market and the state of the American economy in general. But Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo's screenplay for Dumb Money is, well... dumb. Barely a narrative at all, the movie plays like ten or twelve comedy sketches sliced up and edited to form a linear timeline.  Like I, Tonya and Gillespie's The Finest Hours, the film is meant to be a tell-it-like-it-is commentary on class that's so simpleminded and sloppily executed that we see through its shallow facade.

The picture's one saving grace is its lead performance. Dano has never been a star I rush out to see in a movie, yet more often than not, I'm impressed by his ability to align me with his characters. It helps that he is the only actor in the picture who plays an actual character rather than an idea, a joke, or an avatar for something conceptual. His backstory is fleshed out in scenes with his family—his parents, played by Clancy Brown and Kate Burton; his wife, played by Shailene Woodley; and his goofball brother, played by Pete Davidson. Their roles are strictly in service of the protagonist (and, in Davidson's case, to get laughs), but I would say they are at least one-and-a-half-dimensional.

The Gill family is certainly more developed than the billionaire hedge fund managers played by Seth Rogen, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Nick Offerman. These "performances" consist of nothing more than Seth Rogen, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Nick Offerman reacting to images on computer screens and saying dumb lines into phones. They are top-billed actors, but I would be surprised if they spent more than two days shooting their respective scenes. On the other end of the class divide, the characters meant to represent the army of small investors letting their meager finances ride on GameStop are a smidge more fleshed out, but still not to the point where I would call them characters. Representing the working-class heroes who follow Gill on his GameStop quest are a young Puerto Rican guy (Anthony Ramos) who works a counter job at a GameStop in a mall and is constantly hectored by his White middle-aged boss (bet you can guess who gets the last laugh), a hip college-age lesbian couple (Myha'la Herrold and Talia Ryder), and a single-mom nurse whose deeply in debt (America Ferrara). As the principal avatar for this plucky crew, Ferrara gets to spew the movie's main philosophy via dialogue and monologues that make Adam McKay's writing sound like Paddy Chayefsky.    

Has anyone connected to this movie ever met one of these day-trader assholes? The majority are not the salt of the Earth, nor would they look like one of those old United Colors of Benetton ads if you brought them in for a group photo. It's hilarious that this movie is co-produced by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (the elite twin antagonists of The Social Network), but none of the underdog investors in this movie look like Armie Hammer. The Winklevesque characters here are Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota), the founders of the financial technology services company Robinhood, which enabled and then temporarily prevented users from buying stock during the GameStop short squeeze. In the movie, they're presented as minor villains who get their comeuppance; in reality, they are major villains doing just fine now, as are all the others this movie depicts as having lost.

Gillespie goes out of his way to recreate dozens of images, memes, webpages, and media reports with the type of surface-level accuracy that betrays how little interest he and the screenwriters have in exploring the authentic complexities and nuance of Mezrich's story. The depiction of retail traders in this picture as marginalized good guys who can't catch a break until this nerd-in-shining-armor gives them hope and a purpose, not to mention how they rally around him out of solidarity rather than self-interest, is both a false depiction and a missed opportunity for a movie worthy of its subject. The GameStop story is not a feel-good crowdpleaser any more than the story of Facebook's founding was. But unlike The Social Network, you'd never come to that conclusion watching Dumb Money.


Twitter Capsule:

Craig brings his typical lack of nuance to this shallow, "I think ya missed the point" adaption of Ben Mezrich's book about the retail investor army who shock the stock market by investing in the fading brick-and-mortar company GameStop.