If you weren’t one of the 8 million regular folks who invested in Gamestop stock two years ago as Covid raged, and you’d had enough of watching Wall Street bigwigs get richer, “Dumb Money” will explain a lot.
If you were one of those people, well, this film is all about you.
Written and directed at a breakneck pace by two former Wall Street journal reporters (writers Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum) and director Craig Gillespie (“I Tonya”), “Dumb Money” is one of those films that manages to tell a small, specific story of… ok, a stock price being driven sky-high for no intrinsic reason, while also drawing a vivid picture of wealth disparity in our polarized society.
“For me, it’s much larger than the stock market,” said Gillespie in a conversation just after the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. “We are living it right now with the strikes in Hollywood. It’s the same themes and conversation. It’s the disparity of wealth that’s going on in the country and a system that feels rigged. There’s no transparency.”
The Gamestop tale, he said, is about “trying to hold people accountable for that.’
If this were a video this is where we’d freeze frame and rewind. The film retells the very recent, true story of small retail investors who bought massively into the video game retailer, Gamestop, in 2021, led by a whacky YouTube and Reddit influencer named Keith Gill (played brilliantly by Paul Dano). Gill livestreamed his investment philosophy to the masses from his basement under the name Roaring Kitty – complete with kitty memes and videos – with the unusual transparency of showing followers his personal investment grid.
The company wasn’t doing very well. But Gill “liked the stock,” as he put it, because he knew that big Wall Street hedge funds were “shorting” it, in other words, betting on the company’s decline. (The hedge funders are also brilliantly played by Seth Rogen and Vincent d’Onofrio.) Shorting a stock is, of course, a common Wall Street tactic, but these big investors were doing it on a massive scale, and Gill and his legions of followers put a “squeeze” on those with short positions by continuing to buy the stock.
Gamestop? The company is a retailer sprinkled in malls that serves middle America’s passion for video games. Gill’s devout belief in the stock – and that of millions of individual investors who followed suit and held the stock under pressure – matched his disgust with the system that consistently screws small investors and rewards the rich guys already in the club. It was nothing short of a modern day revolt by the economic underclass, which sent the $5.00 stock to over $300.
“I got to see this in real time,” said Gillespie. “The stock market is not something I keep an eye on… My son was living with us during Covid and he was investing in Wall Street Bets. He went on this wild ride.”
“I got to see the community, the frustration, the voice, the boiling anger – that was directed at Wall Street. It was such an acute moment,” he recalled, especially during Covid. “Everyone was isolated, turning to the internet for community, to vent their frustrations.”
Producer-writers Schuker Blum and Angelo (based on the book by Ben Mezrich, who was writing at the same time as the screenplay came together) worked in parallel to create the characters who illustrated that frustration: a hospital worker and young mom who invests, played by America Ferrara; two debt-laden college students (Talia Ryder and Myhala Herrold); and a Gamestop employee (Anthony Ramos).
Said Schuker Blum: “We felt it was important to put them on the big screen – that’s what this movement was.”
Angelo added: “We’ve followed online populism for 10 years – there are scripts floating around Hollywood that no one would make, but it’s one of the biggest forces shaping the world right now.”
At the same time, she noted, depicting stock trading by people in lockdown, “it’s profoundly not cinematic. We worked really hard over many scripts to develop a cinematic language, a story about people who’ve never met each other, but engaged in conflict, having emotional relationships.”
Gillespie sees the Gamestop story as one of the iconic moments that will be an emblem of the period, “before Covid and after Covid,” he said. “Life has profoundly changed. Everyone has reassessed what’s important: the balance of life, of loved ones. To be able to take time and see that moment. It has changed our value system.”
“It got expressed through the Gamestop stock moment, but it’s still being expressed constantly,” he said. “It’s a very defining thing. We haven’t really processed it yet.”
He recalled a moment in the film when Gill talks about the impact of Covid while images of empty classrooms and grocery shelves fill the screen.
“You realize how fragile everything was, and has been,” said Gillespie. “I was looking forward to help look at that shared history we have.”
Sony will release “Dumb Money” in limited release on September 22 and wide on September 29.