Dumb Money: this David-and-Goliath comedy feels entirely unnecessary

Craig Gillespie’s uninspired account of the 2021 GameStop phenomenon, in which the company’s artificially inflated share price caused major problems for hedge funds, is fatally lacking in insight and imagination.

28 September 2023

By Philip Concannon

Paul Dano as Keith Gill in Dumb Money (2023) © Black Bear UK
Sight and Sound

In Wall Street parlance, ‘dumb money’ is a catch-all term for individual and amateur traders, whose investments pale in comparison to the billions managed by hedge funds and capital investment groups. Rarely do the small fish trouble the sharks, but one such conflict occurred in 2020, when YouTuber Keith Gill (Paul Dano) told his small following about his investments in the videogame store GameStop, and the collective will of an online community briefly threatened to topple the hedge funds who had short-sold this stock. Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money positions this as a classic David v Goliath tale, where those with nothing have an opportunity to strike at the hoarders of unimaginable wealth. Each time a character is introduced, an onscreen caption tells us their net worth, from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), sitting on $29 billion, all the way down to debt-ridden student Harmony (Talia Ryder), $186k in the red.

Gillespie used unreliable narrators to enliven the biopic format in I, Tonya (2017), but plays this one relatively straight. He cuts from one member of the ensemble to another as their fortunes fluctuate, none of them emerging as particularly memorable or complex individuals. In telling a story of online behaviour that unfolded during the pandemic, he struggles to do much with endless shots of people staring at phones and laptops, beyond occasionally cutting together a montage of them simultaneously exclaiming “Holy shit!” Gillespie leans on these montages to generate visual interest, compressing the media noise generated by the GameStop campaign into a grating jumble of TikTok videos, Reddit posts, tweets and memes that only serves to emphasise how ugly and obnoxious much of internet culture is.

Dumb Money was adapted from The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, whose earlier book The Accidental Billionaires was the basis for The Social Network (2010). While in that film Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher managed to tie the creation of Facebook into a rich narrative of ambition, friendship and betrayal, Dumb Money’s screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo can find no similarly compelling thematic grounding. The film plays as a bland and simplistic recounting of a moderately interesting event, its contention that the stock market is a rigged game hardly a revelation. A New York Times review of Mezrich’s book in 2021 said: “These are 289 frictionless pages, rife with cinematic establishing shots and verbal summaries of memes.” If nothing else, we can say that Dumb Money is a faithful adaptation.

 ► Dumb Money is in UK cinemas now.

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