The general rule with films about the economy is that you have to make them entertaining. Spreadsheet formulas and taxable municipal bonds do not a compelling movie make. The Big Short, Adam McKay’s rollicking dispatch from the ruins of the 2008 financial crash, was the (sub)prime example of this approach, transforming dull-as-dishwater concepts into a pacy comic thriller that even those of us with overdrafts could understand.
Dumb Money doesn’t go quite as hard as that — there is no Margot Robbie explaining mortgage-backed bonds in a bubble bath — but it feels like it is playing in the same playground. Like The Big Short, it follows an ensemble of people (here: a single mum, a college student, a hedge-fund manager, a stock-market nerd) at the vanguard of a late-stage capitalism anomaly; and like that film, it tells a cautionary tale about complex concepts with layman-friendly ease — in this case, the concept of ‘short squeezes’. The GameStop saga (which happened only a couple of years ago; you may remember the headlines) saw regular-joe investors take on hedge-fund billionaires, triggering a ‘short squeeze’ that left previously sleepy shares suddenly extremely volatile.
If that sounds dry, fear not. It helps, of course, that the source material on which this is based, Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book The Antisocial Network, appears to be inherently farcical, filled with stranger-than-fiction little details. Our main character, Keith Gill (a playful Paul Dano), is a stocks genius who goes by the online monikers ‘Roaring Kitty’ and ‘Deep Fucking Value’, offering financial advice while dipping chicken tenders into a champagne glass, and gains an audience from a Reddit community who communicate primarily in memes. This is a story about how the entire American economy fluctuated when Elon Musk decided to tweet, “Gamestonk!!”
The David-and-Goliath stakes are set in stark, contrasting terms.
Director Craig Gillespie, who has carved out a nice niche for himself telling real-life tales with satirical verve and wit (I, Tonya, Pam & Tommy), recognises the absurdity of all this, and keeps things stylish, breezy and bold. Yet the real-world consequences of the story are kept at hand: each character is introduced with their name and their estimated net worth, ranging from $16 billion to minus $45K, which sets the David-and-Goliath stakes in stark, contrasting terms.
That tension does not run especially deep; the ultimate message of this film, that Wall Street billionaire fat cats need taking down a peg or two, is hardly a new one. But it’s told so fluently and funnily, with a broad, capable, watchable cast (especially the Pam & Tommy alumni, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman and Sebastian Stan, all having against-type fun), that by the end, you’ll find yourself wanting to invest in GameStop, too.