Audiences will eat up comedies that tell technically involved stories in a way that is palatable for general audiences. Just look at the success of The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, Succession, and all of their derivatives. While the GameStop stock movie Dumb Money is far from a bad film, its place in the genre — as yet another movie following the same formula as other, better films — prevents it from reaching the heights as it deserved.
Billing itself as the “ultimate David v. Goliath tale,” the movie tells the story of the GameStop stock situation from the perspective of financial YouTube sensation “Roaring Kitty,” many of his followers, and the Wall Street insiders who attempted to short the stock. It’s a very recent story for there to already be a biopic about it, and the film does struggle to prove it is essential.
The story is told in a tongue-in-cheek way, but the humor is rather hit or miss. There’s only so many times that watching a rich, stuck-up hedge fund manager scream and cry about losing money can be funny. There’s a few fun fish-out-of-water moments with the working class individuals adjusting to their sudden newfound wealth, but these are just a few throwaway sequences.
Dumb Money has too many characters to work
The biggest issue with the movie is that it simply attempts to juggle too many characters — making it difficult to connect with many of them beyond the surface level. Of course, we feel bad for the little guys, and want the big players to lose every cent, but the film doesn’t really seem to feel the need to engage with the larger social context of this story beyond a basic “eat the rich.”
Take the Robinhood storyline, for example. The discussion of this is largely with regards to how it was unethical of the company to shut off trading of stocks like GME at the height of their popularity. However, the movie only mentions in passing some of the larger issues with Robinhood (and other retail investor apps), such as the gamification of the stock market being potentially harmful to the average consumer.
The absolute hero of the ensemble is Paul Dano, who is the glue that holds Dumb Money together — in terms of both the narrative and the cast’s chemistry. This is not the chilling, dramatic work the actor has gotten most of his acclaim for, though. Instead, he is playing it much more comedic here. Still, he does get a few monologues that, while telegraphed and very Oscar-baity, give him the opportunity to add some emotion to the role.
For a film with such a massive ensemble, everyone in the cast but Dano is mostly unimpressive. To be fair, the only other person who gets a role with some actual meat on it is America Ferrera, who is pretty strong. Seth Rogen and Pete Davidson are doing their respective shticks, Anthony Ramos fills a role that could have been played by anyone, and Sebastian Stan, Nick Offerman, and Shailene Woodley don’t make much of an impression.
As one would expect from Gillespie — the director behind such movies as I, Tonya and the Pam & Tommy mini-series — there’s a high level of energy here. It’s not quite the McKay level of maniacism from The Big Short, but it’s enough to keep Dumb Money moving even when the script doesn’t. There are a few devices used that are pretty grating, though, such as the incorporation of memes and TikTok videos.
There are enough funny moments in Dumb Money to make it worth a watch, but it clearly is aiming higher than to be passive entertainment, and it fails. With this director and cast, it should be in the Oscar conversation. It certainly is not.
Dumb Money is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.