“‘Dumb Money’ review: Paul Dano stands out in definitive portrait of the COVID era”

Martin Aubert Tsai

In January 2021, retail investors posting on the r/WallStreetBets subreddit rallied behind the near-bankrupt video game retail chain GameStop, outsmarting professional and institutional brokers who had bet against it. Their efforts would cost Melvin Capital – which initially shorted GameStop – $6.8 billion and culminate in House Financial Services Committee hearings in Washington. It is the stuff legends are made of.

The saga has already spawned several documentaries and documentaries, including one each on Netflix, Max and Hulu. “Dumb Money,” the first dramatic version that had its world premiere Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival, was made in an impressively short time and arrived while national headlines are still fresh in our collective memories. It also has some pedigree: “I, Tonya” director Craig Gillespie is helming an adaptation of a nonfiction work by Ben Mezrich, whose books also served as the basis for “The Social Network” and “21.”

While various retellings don’t necessarily agree on who the masterminds behind the GameStop short squeeze were, “Dumb Money” seems to favor the official version by tying the plot to some of those who ultimately testified before the congressional committee: Keith Gill (Paul Dano). ), known online as Roaring Kitty, who invested $53,000 of her life savings in GameStop stock in 2019 and reported on it via livestream; and Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), founder of Melvin Capital, who once lost $1 billion a day betting on the stock’s decline.

American fiction

As in the docs, “Dumb Money” also highlights a selection of Redditors from r/WallStreetBets to illustrate what motivated them to jump on the GameStop bandwagon and, more importantly, leave it to the hedge fund men: Jenny (America Ferrera), an essential worker during the height of the pandemic; Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold), college students with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt; and Marcus (Anthony Ramos), an employee at a lifeless outpost of the GameStop mall.

One thing, however: As the film suggests, a toxic bro culture is deeply entrenched in r/WallStreetBets, but it rears its ugly head here only through anecdotes. Otherwise, the film fails to flesh out this particularly unsavory aspect of Reddit.

What do “retail investors”, “shorting”, “short squeeze” and “diamond hands” mean? Unlike the documentaries, “Dumb Money” doesn’t delve too deeply into explaining this jargon or countless internet memes to the layperson. Everything is still there – the film doesn’t dumb down anything. The slang is omnipresent in the dialogue and in the online posts that occasionally flash on the screen. Memes and emojis are also popping up everywhere. Gillespie and screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo know that these details add color but are hardly significant. The filmmakers pack a lot of facts and figures into the action, but trust that moviegoers will simply follow along as if they were watching strangers and bearing witness.

Gillespie’s brisk direction and Kirk Baxter’s deft editing capture the chaotic and irreverent online culture without necessarily disrupting or distracting from the main storylines. There are just enough short bursts of TikTok videos and text posts to give moviegoers a taste without having to experience a full sensory assault. The filmmakers also deftly juggle multiple storylines. Many characters are well-received despite the limited time they have on screen.

"Stupid money"

Dano delivers an outstanding turn. Not only does it portray Gill in his daily life and interactions with family members such as his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) and brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), but it also eerily reproduces some of Roaring Kitty’s streaming sessions and Gill’s testimony before the Congress. These moments really shine because they demonstrate the balancing act of delivering a performance within a performance. Anyone who regularly watches these live streams will immediately recognize how absolutely perfect Dano is in these scenes.

Perhaps because this is a studio project with a music release budget, the infectious hip-hop soundtrack definitely stands out. Cardi B’s “WAP” is one that defines the period particularly and appropriately.

Whether intentional or not, “Dumb Money” has become the first definitive portrait of the COVID era. It includes the masking, the vaccines, the DoorDashing, the stimulus payments, the ordinary people struggling to make ends meet, and the greedy hedge funds constantly looking for their next prey without considering the human cost. It was the perfect storm. For a moment, the outsiders found a plan to outsmart the system that hedge fund managers exploited to amass their fortunes. It’s a shame that they’ll eventually find out the hard way that the entire system is rigged against them.

“Dumb Money” will be released by Sony in September.

Oprah and George Clooney, Toronto Film Festival

Brian Ashcraft

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