Sitting down to Dumb Money at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2023), I was excited about the absolutely stacked cast. Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogan, Sebastian Stan, America Ferrera, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Dane DeHaan…the list goes on. But it gets better: the story is about the GameStop stock scandal just a few years ago, as I was getting into the gaming industry. These were some of the first news stories I worked on, and it was a hell of an experience seeing them play out on screen by some of my favorite actors.
If you don’t know the story, Keith Gill, a regular guy, takes an interest in GameStop on the stock market, “I like the stock,” he says, and streams to audiences on the internet to report his findings when he dumps his life savings into the video game store’s stock. The story takes off, and people jump on the bandwagon every day, ultimately causing the shares to skyrocket, bringing Gill’s shares into the millions. We follow Keith (Dano), Kevin (Davidson), Jenny (Ferrera), Marcus (Ramos), Harmony (Harmony Ryder), and more as they put what little money they have into the GameStop stock and hold with “Diamond Hands,” as they say.
From there, Wall Street fights back. Gabe Plotkin (Rogan), Vlad Tenev (Stan), Ken Griffin (Offerman), and Steve Cohen (D’Onofrio) are the richest of the rich and stood to lose billions as the masses rose to drive the GameStop through the roof and eventually submitted to less-than-legal ways to keep the rich rich, and the poor, poor. Oh, and did I mention this is a true story?
Dumb Money uses real-life footage from the scandal’s real-life trials and Hollywood acting to drive the point home. Having actors respond to this actual footage was an excellent choice, with the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) grilling our Wall Street actors. Something about politicians we recognize, and trials we have actually watched brought the story off the big screen and down to earth, reminding us how real this movement was.
The absolutely all-star cast was perfect in Dumb Money. Often, when you put this many people on the screen, many get lost in the background, but everyone has their part. He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve are good examples of this, though they’re not the same kind of story. I was slightly worried about what happens when you try to split the focus between big names, but Dumb Money nails the landing.
Dano’s Keith Gill felt a tad awkward, almost too subdued, but footage from the trial demonstrates that he did his homework. Davidson does what he does, being the constant comedic relief. Playing Dano’s brother, Davidson has some surprisingly tender moments, even shedding a tear and bringing something real to his character. Stan’s Vlad was awkward and somewhat creepy, which I believe was the goal. His scenes were off-putting, with the dialogue giving viewers a sense that something wasn’t quite right from the get-go.
The juxtaposition between scenes with our Wall Street men and “regular” people was well thought out. In Keith’s home, we see a modest lifestyle: a children’s dollhouse, dishes in the sink, Kevin borrowing a car from his brother to make DoorDash runs, and Jenny working on the frontlines in a hospital during the pandemic. On the other hand, Gabe sprints from his second mansion he is trying to tear down to build a tennis court to see how many billions he lost that day, and Ken is feeding his massive pet pig in a kitchen bigger than my house.
Director Craig Gillespie made these choices to separate the wealthy from the rest of the pack but found ways to connect our blue-collar crew, even though their stories don’t directly overlap. Using music, Gillespie displayed that though these people came from all walks of life, with next to nothing in common, they were part of the same cause, living similar moments. They are connected in this way through a letter as well, with everyone who was a part of the movement reading it out loud, bit by bit, like a team, but separate.
Dumb Money came up fast. Portions of the story happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I rarely get to see something I lived through plastered on the big screen. Of course, this wasn’t the film’s central theme, but montages of images, news stories, social media posts, and more set the tone for the film and brought us into the character’s lives.
I haven’t met a person at TIFF 2023 who has anything bad to say about this movie. Dumb Money takes a story about a regular guy living a regular life who blows up the stock market and makes it genuinely entertaining, even if you don’t quite understand all the intricacies. It’s a must-watch for anyone familiar with the story, and even if you aren’t, you’ll want to learn more by the time it’s over.