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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Dumb Money’ wages war on the wealthy through sensory overload

Craig Gillespie’s energetic new film begins by telling the story of the 2021 GameStop short squeeze, but ends with overconfident optimism.
Paul Dano plays Keith Gill in the film “Dumb Money.” (Courtesy of @ 2023 Black Bear)

Gabe Plotkin, the millionaire hedge fund founder and chief information officer played by Seth Rogen, sits in his oceanfront mansion, preparing for a TV interview about his sinking fund. His makeup artist asks how he’s liking Miami after his recent move. Plotkin says he loves the heat, but hates the humidity.

Investors like Plotkin, with their billion-dollar safety nets woven together and held up by the working class, love the risk of the stock market. When they feel pressure in the air — well, that’s when they start to sweat. 

“Dumb Money,” directed by Craig Gillespie, was released on Sept. 15. Based on the true story of the 2021 GameStop short squeeze, the movie follows a group of amateur investors led by YouTube finance guru Keith Gill, also known by his handle name “Roaring Kitty.” They use social media to turn frequently shorted GameStop stock into gold, bleeding big-time investors of billions of dollars. 

The film features a star-studded cast, including Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera and Nick Offerman. Gillespie and the cast tell the story of Roaring Kitty versus hedge-fund executives like Plotkin and the villain of the movie, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, using fictionalized tales of Roaring Kitty’s followers as they profit off of their GameStop stocks.

The movie captures the essence of 2021, depicting how the pandemic was a time of digital sensory overload — rap music blasts as we’re shown montages of the ever-churning news cycle and meme formats that grew outdated after days. Despite the pandemic, the mega-rich throw caution to the wind, hosting lavish parties as the companies in their short portfolios foreclose. The film establishes 2021 as a wildly unpredictable era, the perfect setting for the short squeeze that turned Wall Street upside down. Like the GameStop short squeeze in real life, following the events in the movie is attention-grabbing fun for the uninvolved. 

Stories of Gill and his working-class followers ground the movie amongst the extremities of social media and the grandeur of million-dollar mansions. The journeys of students, essential workers and everyday Americans with overwhelming debts remind viewers that the flashiness of the Internet and the stock market can sometimes ironically pacify the common man. As Gill says, “The whole fucking world kept my ego in check.” 

The reigning question of the movie is what was in most minds during the pandemic: “Are we going to be okay?” America Ferrera’s nurse-slash-Roaring-Kitty-follower asks this once in the beginning of the film, but as the movie traverses the instabilities of COVID-19 strains and the stock market, it returns to the same question. “Dumb Money” keeps viewers guessing for a while, until it takes a sharp turn with its messaging. Yes, the movie asserts, a new day is dawning for retail investors — a day when the little guy has a chance to make it big in the stock market.

For a film that attempts to overturn the idea that billionaires will always reign supreme, it basks in overconfidence itself. Perhaps the extravagance of the movie is meant to sedate the audience with a similar false sense of optimism. It does seem ironic that, after the movie finishes espousing a message of hope for the working class, the logo for Winklevoss Pictures flashes on screen.

Just two years after the events of the movie, GameStop is still struggling. Ken Griffin might be momentarily pissed at Gillespie, but he’s still sitting in his Miami mansion, currently the wealthiest person in Florida. He is on the list of the top 50 richest people in the U.S., living in one of the top 10 states with the worst wealth inequality. Just one year ago, he spent $43 million dollars on a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution at his then 14 year-old son’s urging. He has been buying properties all over Miami, attempting to relocate a historic home against the urging of historians and preservationists. His current internal conflict is whether or not to become a primary donor for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign. 

Sorry, “Dumb Money.” It’s safe to say that the Ken Griffins of the world have adjusted to the humidity. 

Contact Liv Steinhardt at [email protected].

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  • W

    William MacKaySep 27, 2023 at 10:24 am

    A perceptive, well-written review

  • J

    jakeSep 25, 2023 at 7:10 pm

    This article offered me so much information that i didn’t know about when the gamestop short happened. Livs writing style and wit made this such a fun and easy read!