Thursday, January 25, 2024

Hodl to the Moon

Film: Dumb Money
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.

No one would ever mistake me for knowing anything much about money. My wife handles the bills because if it were up to me, I’d be late on a bunch of them. Everyone has their talents and mine don’t lie in that area. Because of this, movies like The Big Short tend to go a little over my head. I have to pay a lot of attention to keep up with financial stories because it’s just…beyond me. That makes me kind of the target market for a movie like Dumb Money because I am very much named in the title.

This movie is based on the story of GameStop. More specifically, this is about the GameStop stock explosion that happened during the pandemic. According to the film, and I honestly don’t know how much of this is actually real, a guy named Keith Gill (Paul Dano) noticed that some major investors were shorting GameStop, including hedge fund managers who put significant money into shorting the stock. As I understand it, shorting is basically a bet that the stock will tank—a future promise to buy the stock created by “selling” the stock now. If you “sell” the stock at $10 and it drops to $5, you’ve just made $5 per share. If you think the company is going under—and GameStop certainly looked like it was going to—you sell for whatever the price is and buy it for essentially zero. So Keith decided that the stock was undervalued and started telling people on the Wall Street Bets subreddit on Reddit.

And the stock blew up, going from a price of a couple of dollars to hundreds over the course of a few months, sending the financial world into a spiral and revealing some extremely shady behavior at high levels in the market.

Some of the movie naturally focuses on those hedge fund managers. The main fund shorting GameStop was run by Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), who went billions into debt because of his short positions on the stock. Plotkin is eventually bailed out temporarily by other financiers Ken Griffen (Nick Offerman) and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio). And then there’s Robinhood, run by Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan). Touting itself as the trading app for the average person, Robinhood seemed to immediately knuckle under to pressure and prevent people from buying GameStop stock to prevent the price from climbing, a move that, among other suspicious behavior, started a Congressional inquiry into the entire situation.

The appeal of Dumb Money, of course, is obvious. This is a classic David and Goliath story, one where we are naturally going to root for the little guys against the major players who have the deck stacked in their favor (to the point where despite clearly, obvious collusion in many cases, no charges were ever filed against anyone—shades of the housing crisis). To help us with this, we are going to spend a lot of time with some of those small investors who, rather than pulling massive profits out of GameStop, held their positions. These include nurse Jenny (America Ferrera), college students Riri and Harmony (Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder), and GameStop employee Marcos (Anthony Ramos). We’re also going to spend time with Keith Gill’s brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), who manages to be the one person not worth a billion dollars who is genuinely annoying in the film. Other players include Keith’s supportive wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), and his parents, (Kate Burton and Clancy Brown). Honestly, it’s really nice to see Clancy Brown in a role where he’s not the bad guy.

There’s a weird sense of hope that comes with a film like Dumb Money, but also one that smacks a bit of despair and anger. The system is rigged, and it’s always going to be rigged. This is another point of connection with The Big Short, but also with something like Moneyball. The minute the guys with all of the money figure out that someone else has found a way to beat the system, they either close the loophole that allows it or they find a way to use their limitless resources to capitalize on the loophole themselves and rig the game further.

This is an easy movie to like, though. I tend to like Paul Dano in just about everything he’s in, and that’s not going to change here—he’s the best part of a good film. I do feel like this should come with a pamphlet that explains everything fully, though. I get what is happening, but there were a few moments I had to rewind and watch again just to make sure. Those of us who find finance above our paygrade need the baby steps, and Dumb Money didn’t really provide them.

Also, just to say it, the title on this post is not a typo.

Why to watch Dumb Money: What a story!
Why not to watch: The bad guys always win eventually.


  1. I do want to see this as I'd like to learn how everyone was able to make money through GameStop. Plus, Olivia Thirlby is in the movie as Rogen's wife and I have to show some support for one of my ladies of the Bullet Club.

    1. It's good. There are very strong flashbacks of The Big Short, but in the most positive of ways.

  2. I watched this on a flight recently and was bummed I missed it in theaters because it was very good! I thought it explained the situation well, because when this was happening I have to have it re-explained to me several times lol.

    1. Agreed, although I'm not much of an "in theaters" person. Admittedly, the cast is very good, which helps, and I'll watch Paul Dano in just about anything.