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Review: ‘Dumb Money’ takes a feel-good approach to finance

Courtesy Sony Pictures

By Jay Collura     9/27/23 12:02am

Rating: ★★★

Despite the omnipresence of the internet today, few movies force themselves to reckon with its existence the same way “Dumb Money” does. 

Journeyman director Craig Gillespie’s latest film attempts to capture the mania that occurred at the beginning of 2021 after the price of GameStop stock increased exponentially. Rather than delving into the intricacies of finance, Gillespie, alongside writers Lauren Schuker and Rebecca Angelo, chose to tackle this subject by exploring the ways the short squeeze both empowered the common retail trader — often called “dumb money” by Wall Street investors — and built a strong community, both offline and online.

While this feel-good objective makes for an entertaining story, the film’s lack of focus, in both style and substance, ultimately makes “Dumb Money” somewhat unrewarding, at least for those already familiar with the true story.

From the moment “Dumb Money” begins, it is apparent that the film wants to be the next “Social Network.” The film has a cold look, with hues of blue and gray standing out against the warmer lighting. While everyone involved in this stylistic tribute to director David Fincher is doing a good job, the purpose of that coldness is lost. 

“The Social Network” is about Mark Zuckerberg’s lack of humor, complemented by the film’s muted palette. On the other hand, “Dumb Money” is a film ripe with jokes and is, at least to some degree, funny, yet is visually chilly. The style is simply incongruent with the substance, leading the film to feel a lot more flat than either component would want you to believe.

This is not to say, however, that the film does not work. Gillespie’s emotional take on the subject matter was refreshing and necessary given the complexity that underlies the financial world. The film bounces between various perspectives of people invested in the GME situation and creates a strong sense of empathy for those taking advantage of the system. 

The choice to focus on five characters rather than one or two, though, leads to a certain collapse around the midpoint of the film. Once it becomes apparent that no particular character will receive a nuanced emotional payoff, the film slows down significantly, as the viewer is only watching a recitation of an event they likely already know about.

Despite this fall-off, the ensemble cast is firing on all cylinders throughout the film. Paul Dano, playing central character Keith Gill who sinks his savings into GameStop stock, portrays a subtle depth to his frustration that punches way above the weight of the film. America Ferrera and Talia Ryder play easily empathetic protagonists who contrast the despicable, coldhearted performances of Vincent D’Onofrio and Seth Rogan.

Ultimately, “Dumb Money” doesn’t quite know what to do with all the threads it attempts to weave. If the viewer is familiar with the story and the internet at large, it becomes a struggle to stay invested. Regardless, the strong performances and inherent intrigue of the story keep the film moving, and it’s difficult not to feel good for the little guy, especially in a story at this scale.

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