Wednesday, September 27, 2023


There is a really good movie to be made about the Gamestop sage, but DUMB MONEY is not it. Directed by Craig Gillespie (I, TONYA) and written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, the movie aspires to be THE BIG SHORT but has none of its wit, its deep understanding of financial markets, or its sheer dynamism. I didn't laugh once. I didn't learn anything. And more than that I got increasingly angry at the film's inability to tackle the real issues at stake, or to actually get the point. In fact, I think DUMB MONEY may be the most wrong-headed, dumb film I have watched in a long while.

Now, full disclosure, this blog used to be called Movie Reviews For Greedy Capitalist Bastards. And maybe I know more than the average movie goer about how financial markets work. But that isn't the point. Films like MARGIN CALL and THE BIG SHORT did great work in taking complex financial issues and interrogating them clearly and even-handedly.  But instead of having the balls to be nuanced, what Gillespie gives us is a fake David vs Goliath story, with pantomime villains and a very bizarre take on what a hero is. I think the result is morally questionable, and certainly not entertaining.

So let's go back to the beginning.  Keith Gill (Paul Dano) starts off as a little known retail investor in the US stock market.  He decides that Gamestop is undervalued, and explains why in a little-watched youtube channel. At the start I think he was in earnest. He believed he had found Deep Fucking Value in a retailer that was oversold on fears of e-commerce. I have no issue with him at this point. Then he started gaining traction on a Reddit channel called Wall Street Bets and I think it went to his head.  He realised that not only was he pumping up the value of his recommended stock, but that he could actually get it up to a level where he could punish the big hedge funds that were betting against the stock - the kind of folks that had refused to hire him all those years.

What the film should have asked is at what point our supposed hero of the little man realised the stock price had gone beyond Deep Fucking Value to Fair Value (on his reckoning) and then to Over Valued.  Even allowing for some kids still liking to buy actual hard copy games, did he really believe a value of >$100 was fair? And if he did not, then continuing to pump up the stock was just as nefarious as the institutional investors he and his dumb money disciples said they were fighting against. If we had seen any of this moral questioning, Paul Dano might have actually had something to do worthy of his talent. 

But this film isn't actually interested in asking the hard questions about Gill.  And it sure isn't interested in asking the hard questions about the toxic online culture he was part of.  There are a couple of throwaway lines that dismiss the misogyny, racism and generally 4Chan nastiness as a "few bad apples". Riiiiight. That toxicity and populist fact-opposed bullshit is exactly why a bunch of normal ordinary people lost their savings in this meme-stock insanity. Shouldn't the film have asked if Gill had any remorse?

No, the bad guys here are the evil hedge funds and the tech guys who invented Robinhood, a commission-free trading platform. Never mind that the Hedgie (Seth Rogen) made a conviction bet just like Gill, but did not pump the stock artificially - he just sat back for years waiting for e-commerce and bad management to do its work. I do indeed blame the Robinhood folk for switching off trades when they couldn't post margin.  But the film actually let's them off rather lightly, over-excited about getting Sebastian Stan to do a Sean Parker in THE SOCIAL NETWORK-lite cameo.  The film also seems to imply in its end credits that somehow Nick Griffin at Citadel (Nick Offerman - excellently understated) got away with nefarious influence over Robinhood. Maybe if charges weren't posted it's because there wasn't a case? 

I just can't take a film seriously that doesn't have its basic thesis straight. These meme stock traders were not heroes who started a revolution, as the end credits argue.  They were literally dumb money that didn't invest but gambled, refused to close out their positions out of greed, and lost their shirts.  To argue that they are somehow the righteous Davids, inherently morally better than the evil Goliaths, is nonsense. 

DUMB MONEY is rated R and has a running time of 105 minutes. It played Toronto 2023 and is now on global release.

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