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You don’t have to have a financial degree or boast extensive knowledge about short squeezes and the "stonk market" to enjoy “Dumb Money,” a meme-filled novelty of class warfare that fully embraces the scrappy Everyman attitude of its protagonists.
Director Craig Gillespie's true-life A-list dramedy (★★★ out of four; rated R; in select theaters now, expanding Friday, nationwide Sept. 29) centers on the GameStop stock phenomenon during the height of COVID-19. The tale pits Wall Street hedge fund guys against retail investors, with the former dismissing the latter as “dumb money” and “the stupidest people on Earth.” Paul Dano stars as the ringleader of this computer-chair revolution in a crowd-pleasing narrative that, unlike fellow financial flicks “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is grounded in relatability and the mindset of the working stiff.
Keith Gill (Dano) is an analyst for a Massachusetts insurance company who in his off-hours gives stock tips on Reddit and YouTube (his handle: “Roaring Kitty”). He sinks his life savings (around $55,000) into stock for the GameStop video-game store because he thinks it’s undervalued by Wall Street types. “They have the advantage and still get it wrong,” he tells a friend who needles him about such a risky move.
But a bunch of people, already believing the system is rigged against them, are ready to take investment advice from an excitable dude in a cat shirt. Keith inspires others around the country to also buy GameStop stock including nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera), college students Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder), and GameStop store clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos). The price skyrockets, they get rich. Keith makes millions and wealthy Wall Streeters who initially bet against the stock lose billions, leading hedge fund CEOs Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) to enter the fray with their considerable power.
Because it tackles recent history, “Dumb Money” has a compelling universality different from most biopics: Most everyone can recall being locked down, masking up and tapping into new voices of reason and knowledge, like YouTubers in cat shirts. Gillespie at times essentially creates big-screen TikToks with emojis, news reports and hyperactive verve that complements the vibe of this modern-day underdog story.
The film's battle between the haves and have-nots is clearly defined in its main characters’ lives: Middle-class dreams of owning a new house or splurging on a nice vacation are starkly contrasted with Gabe worrying about putting in a tennis court at his mansion and Steve having an upscale lunch with his pig. And while higher education on economics isn’t essential to understanding it all, you'll likely want to hit Google after the fact to go deep on actual financial terms (for those who don’t know a call option from a gamma squeeze) and/or the slang vocabulary of Roaring Kitty's followers like “apes," “tendies" and “diamond hands."
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After two top-notch films about villainized women (“I, Tonya” and “Cruella”), Gillespie goes in a different direction with a 21st-century folk hero played with goofy affability by Dano. (“Dumb Money” is also a nice change of pace for the Emmy-nominated actor after playing a serial killer in “The Batman” and a 1950s and '60s suburban dad in “The Fabelmans.”) You can buy into all the over-the-top Wall Street business because of the strength of Keith’s story as he butts heads with his slacker brother Kevin (a surprisingly good Pete Davidson) and stresses over newfound wealth with his loyal wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley).
In its own terms, “Dumb Money” probably should sell off sooner – nothing kills storytelling momentum like congressional Zoom hearings – but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better big-screen combo of rising stock prices and rousing joy.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Dumb Money' movie review: Rousing satire revisits GameStop stock run