Forget Rudy. Forget the Karate Kid. Forget the Bad News Bears. The best underdog movie of all time just might be Dumb Money, and not just because of Paul Dano’s Keith “Roaring Kitty” Gill. The real underdog in Dumb Money is the thousands of ordinary people who “held the line” with Gill and took on Wall Street to made GameStop into a household name… or at least, GameStop’s stock, anyway.
If you don’t know the story, what happened was a 2021 incident in which Gill discovered that short selling interest in GameStop (GME) was oversubscribed. Short selling is a stock trading phenomenon whereby someone can sell a stock they don’t actually own — effectively borrowing it from someone who owns it, selling it, and then buying it back later. If the stock goes down, the short seller makes money. But if it goes up, they can lose — a lot.
More than 100 percent of the shares of GME were sold short, which means Wall Street was betting wildly against the company — and sure enough it looked like a physical retailer of gaming merchandise during the pandemic — with no digital strategy — was probably headed for the dustbin. But Gill thought otherwise, and he made his case for GME on Youtube and, especially, Reddit’s infamous WallStreetBets subreddit.
After shaking off some initial naysayers, the stock indeed started to move. To $6, to $12, to $20. And then up from there. The higher it got, the more people got onboard — all “apes” and “retards” in their own parlance, following their feline-obsessed leader with blind abandon.
I watched this all play out in real time back in 2021 as a member of WSB, and though I didn’t ever buy any GME, I sure wish I had, if only to have had the story to tell today. As far as I can tell, Dumb Money is a very accurate portrayal of the events over the few weeks that followed, culminating in the closure of a major hedge fund called Melvin Capital and Congressional hearings into what in the hell had exactly gone on.
The film is a delight from start to finish, anchored by Dano in the kind of understated Everyman role at which he excels. He’s surrounded by capable actors — Shailene Woodley as Gill’s wife, Pete Davidson pulling comic relief as Gill’s brother, and Sebastian Stan as Vlad Tenev, one of the CEOs of Robinhood, the stock trading app through which a lot of GME stock was traded. The fatcat “bad guys” here — played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, and Seth Rogen — have less to do, but Rogen seems to have a good time with his role as the whipping boy short seller in this tale. Offerman is relatively wasted, never cracking a smile as he broods his way through a one-dimensional part.
While the script fumbles a bit here and there, namely when it breaks from Gill’s story to tell the sparsely populated tales of a random collection of his followers — and the fortunes and misfortunes that emerged — those missteps are minor and easily forgiven in the end. Director Craig Gillespie, best known for I, Tonya, clearly has a knack with larger than life true stories, and he takes what could have been a dry financial tale and imbues it with life and heart — a Big Short, writ even shorter.
In an era when large companies are increasingly using their power to attempt to stomp out the voice of the little guy, Dumb Money is a story that should give everyone out there who’s trying to do something on their own or push back against tyranny a little bit of hope. Sadly, Gill’s story will surely always be the exception — but that doesn’t mean we can’t all keep on trying.
This is probably the perfect time to formally announce that Film Racket’s days are coming to an end, and the site will be closing in January 2024. I started reviewing movies professionally in 1994, and 2024 will mark 30 years since I began. Of course, I’ve been largely out of the scene for years, and Film Racket never picked up where my prior venture, Filmcritic.com, left off. (In case you’re wondering, AMC Television shuttered the site in 2012, a few years after acquiring it. My attempts to buy it back didn’t pan out.)
Whether you’ve been a regular reader or are just happening upon this message for the first time, thank you for your patronage and support over the last three decades. See ya at the movies.