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‘Dumb Money’: A great comedy about the financial French revolution against Wall Street

Craig Gillespie tells the story of a large group of small investors who united on social networks to deliver a crushing blow to the stock market investment firms

Paul Dano in 'Dumb Money.'
Paul Dano in 'Dumb Money.'

While the “criminals” of Wall Street were playing with marked cards and the rules of the game rigged by means of their short-selling operations, a large group of small investors, which the stock market billionaires call “dumb money,” joined forces on Reddit to launch a French revolution in the finance markets. The coup, which took place just three years ago, was led by “a textbook geek” and is already legendary in the history of the stock markets because it involved the shares of a relatively small company, GameStop, a videogame store chain operating in the age of online piracy. The syndicate bought up shares en masse, hiking their price by 30 times and causing investment firms such as Melvin Capital — which bet on companies that are close to bankruptcy to profit from their losses — to lose billions of dollars. What to do with such madness in the casino of the dirtiest corner of contemporary capitalism? Director Craig Gillespie and his screenwriters had a very clear idea when making Dumb Money.

The movie is a comedy based on a matter is generally not very funny, especially for us mortals, hostages to the stock market terrorists and banking excesses that lead to collapses, job layoffs and global economic crises. The laymen need not fear: the film is still a fable of the poor against the rich, the honest against the corrupt, those at the bottom against those at the top, with the only difference being that it is as real as life itself and in which every term, every situation, and every consequence is delivered through sharp and ironic dialogue, leaving the screenwriters with little need for superfluousness or rhetoric.

After all, around this choral tale of small-scale investors, financial analysts, investment funds, and Gordon Gekko-type Wall Street villains, there is always someone who does not understand the subject either and needs a practical lesson. And therein lies the difficulty — and the merit — of screenwriters Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker, inspired by the book The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees by Ben Mezrich, who also authored the essays that formed the basis of The Social Network and 21, two other films about the financial race that emerged The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal and Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, respectively.

That such a specialized story is so sympathetic, funny, and exciting is a credit to the dialogue crafted by Angelo and Schuker, with the complicity of Gillespie’s staging, director of the excellent I, Tonya. The pace is unrestrained but the film does not need the continuous editing and sound effects, and the sometimes-unbridled brio of the works of Adam McKay, director of The Big Short, Vice, and Don’t Look Up, finds several concomitances in Dumb Money: documentary images from contemporary newsreels and talk shows and the real appearances of the protagonists before a United States House Committee on Financial Services investigation.

Premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, Gillespie’s film ends up talking about people, with flesh and blood characters, in an unequal struggle with one more dramatic element: the events take place in the rawest part of the pandemic, with pain, tension, loneliness, death, and lives embedded in Zoom and social networks. Those who dared to gamble a few hundred dollars to fight against Wall Street’s power earned tens of thousands; those who took a chance with tens of thousands earned millions. And with their dumb money they savored — for a while, or in some cases for the rest of their lives — the defeat of the unscrupulous villain and the victory of the revolutionaries.

'Dumb Money'

Director: Craig Gillespie.

Cast: Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, America Ferrara, Shailene Woodley. 

Genre: Comedy. USA, 2023.

Runtime: 104 minutes.

Release date: September 29.

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