Director Craig Gillespie has a thing for unlikely underdogs. Whether it’s Tonya Harding in I, Tonya or Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy, or even Cruella De Vil in Cruella, he makes movies about protagonists we might not otherwise think of as being an underdog. But in Dumb Money, he takes on a classic underdog: the working class “retail traders” who fueled the GameStop stock phenomenon in early 2021. Adapted from Ben Mezrich’s book The Antisocial Network by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, Dumb Money recounts the recent history of the “meme stonks” that, briefly, upended Wall Street.


Dumb Money is clearly copying from The Big Short’s notes, with a large, ensemble cast working in an inter-spliced narrative peppered with gimmicks to explain the esoteric business principles at play. The story follows three main threads: in one, hedge funder Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen, working sweaty energy) is trying to stave off his fund’s collapse as the GameStop stock shoots through the roof; in another, a clutch of early investors in GameStop watch their investments grow and then crash through what appears to be market manipulation; and in the final story thread, financial analyst Keith Gill (Paul Dano) watches his Youtube hobby spin out of control as he inadvertently starts an online revolution.

Dumb Money works best when it is focused on the people at the heart of the story. Montaging TikToks and trying to get people to care about memes is a tall order the film never quite satisfies, but the ensemble succeeds in putting faces to the anonymous screennames of the personalities who dominated the story, such as Roaring Kitty. Paul Dano is excellent as Keith Gill, the man behind the Youtube account “Roaring Kitty” and Reddit profile “Deep F-cking Value”. After work, Keith descends into his basement, dons a cheesy cat shirt and a red headband, and posts videos breaking down his modest investment portfolio. He is not a rich man, he’s an office drone with rent to pay and a baby to feed. His audience is small and made up of other so-called “retail investors”, the average people investing small sums in the market on platforms like E-Trade and Robinhood, a new, commission-free investing app.


Following Keith is Jenny (America Ferrera, excellent as always), an overworked nurse stressed by single motherhood and working through the pandemic; college students Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder), saddled with six-figure student debt each; and GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos), who likes working at the video game retail shop. When Keith explains why he put almost all of his savings into GameStop, the others follow suit, inspired by his confidence and a chance to bet against Wall Street, who have “shorted” GameStop, believing the company is on the brink of bankruptcy and counting on its failure to make money.

One of the biggest holders of a GameStop short position is Melvin Capital, a hedge fund run by Gabe Plotkin. When the trouble breaks out, Gabe is busy trying to get his neighbor’s house knocked down so he can build a tennis court for his family to use during the pandemic, but despite being a hundred-millionaire—the film helpfully provides everyone’s net worths on screen as GameStop value fluctuates—he doesn’t have the juice to make this happen at the snap of his fingers.


One thing Dumb Money does very well is show the relative difference between a man worth hundreds of millions like Gabe, and the billionaires who invest in his fund. Vincent D’Onofrio is having the time of his life playing billionaire Steve Cohen—the inspiration for Bobby Axelrod on Billions—and Nick Offerman is delightfully smug as Ken Griffin, owner of the Citadel LLC hedge fund. Gabe can’t get his tennis court built, but Ken has rented the Four Seasons resort in Palm Beach, moving his company there so they can keep trading during the COVID lockdown.

The difference between Gabe and guys like Cohen and Griffin is clear, but the difference between Gabe and the GameStop investors is STARK. None of them, including Keith, are homeowners. They all take public transit or drive sh-tty cars. They’re all forced to keep going into work during the height of the pandemic, while the wealthy retreat into beachfront fortresses where service-class workers tend to them with masks and gloves on. They dream of buying houses, affording braces, paying off student debt, while the wealthy are just moving numbers on spreadsheets to one up each other in a morally corrupt race to hoard the most wealth. 


The point here is sharply made. For most people, half a million dollars is life-changing money, fifty million—Keith’s net worth at one point—is an unimaginable fortune. But for the wealthy, it is NEVER ENOUGH. In an unsubtle metaphor, Steve Cohen feeds his pet pig while snarfing down his own food, his appetite gluttonous, his hunger insatiable. Gabe and his wife, Yaara (Olivia Thirlby, in an utterly thankless role), are trying to build that kind of fortune for their family, but this GameStop mess is costing them billions, yet they are never in danger of losing it all, there is always a billionaire to bail them out. Meanwhile, Caroline Gill (Shailene Woodley, also in a thankless role), frets over Keith potentially going to prison for market manipulation when the sh-t finally hits the fan. The stakes are not comparable, the odds are never even.

Dumb Money—the derogatory term people like Ken Griffin use to describe retail investors—taps into this “eat the rich” anger, but the film loses focus as the ensemble spreads past the key players. Pete Davidson is excellent as Keith’s asshole brother, Kevin, and Sebastian Stan gives a hilariously vacuous performance as Vlad Tenev, the co-CEO of Robinhood, the investment app used by many GameStop investors. They’re great, and they add fun flourishes to the film, but it starts to feel like too much, especially when combined with the many social media montages meant to show the phenomenon spreading and hitting the mainstream. I don’t care how hard you try, there’s just nothing interesting about watching phone content on a movie screen.


But for the most part, Dumb Money works. It both explains what the GameStop “meme stock” moment was, and how it all unfolded, and it humanizes Keith Gill as an unlikely figurehead. It’s a little busy and a little hyper about all the memes, but the human elements work really well. I wish it was a bit more focused on the people and less on the “apes”, which is a compliment to the excellent cast, particularly Paul Dano, and while it doesn’t reach the furious heights of The Big Short, it does poke at the anti-billionaire sentiment that has been simmering a little bit higher ever since 2020. Dumb Money is a mostly fun look at a brief moment in which working class underdogs tipped the scales in their favor. For once.

This review was published during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers and actors. Dumb Money will be exclusively in theaters from September 15, 2023.