The Pitch: If the glut of financial malfeasance dramedies of the past few years (Hustlers, Netflix’s Painkiller) has taught us anything, it’s that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has never been greater. But while films like Adam McKay’s The Big Short (arguably patient zero for this particular trend) diligently explain the mechanisms that hedge fund managers use to screw you over, Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money dramatizes the rare case where the average Joe got to screw the rich right back.
In case you forgot (or, more realistically, you were more focused on the real-life chaos of COVID), in January 2021 retail investors (“dumb money,” as short sellers call them — regular people who put their leftover lunch money into securities via startup apps like Robinhood) successfully rallied around a mass purchase of Gamestop (GME) stock.
Gamestop was a flagging business, the last vestige of physical video game purchasing and reselling in an age where most people get their games digitally. But because of COVID, it stayed open as an “essential” business, even as short sellers like hedge fund manager Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Melvin Capital CIO Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) bet on the company’s collapse.
And yet, one stalwart subreddit — r/WallStreet Bets — held the line, buying up stock under the rallying cry of Keith Gill (Paul Dano), aka RoaringKitty, a goofy millennial who wears cat shirts and a red bandana. Is he trying to get rich off a pump-and-dump scheme? Or does he just want to stick it to the Man? If you ask him… he “just likes the stock.”
Before long, RNs and college students gained hundreds of thousands of dollars in net worth, while Cohen and his ilk lost billions by the day. It’s the ultimate David and Goliath story of our age, fought with memes and stubbornness rather than rocks and slings — even as Wall Street pulls some nasty tricks to undermine the meme revolution happening right under their noses.
The Li’l Short: While not quite as stylized or droll as The Big Short (there’s no Margot Robbie explaining stuff in a bathtub), Dumb Money takes a similarly irreverent approach to the convoluted machinations of high finance. For the most part, it works; at a brisk 100 minutes, it keeps its focus squarely on the clear, infuriating divide between the haves and the have-nots. In the opening minutes, we’re introduced to many of our central characters, intercutting between luxurious lounging in palatial mansions (in Cohen’s case, with his giant pet pig lagging behind him) and workaday people stuffed into cramped dorm rooms or ill-lit gamer basements. Their net worth flashes across the screen, the sheer gulf in the numbers designed to elicit gasps.