It’s a David vs. Goliath Story: Sony’s “Dumb Money” Premieres at Toronto Film Festival
It is only appropriate that Sony’s terrific new comedy Dumb Money starts with the Columbia Pictures logo. That was the studio that Frank Capra famously helped build with his movies where the little guy triumphs over the corporate bad guys. Dumb Money is positively Capra-esque in the way it tells its improbable David vs. Goliath story about how an internet geek started a movement that blew up the heretofore loser stock of shopping mall game store GameStop and became the toast of Wall Street, while bankrupting a couple of billionaire hedge funds in the process. It movie had its world premiere tonight at the Toronto Film Festival before its theatrical release later this month.
The Rise of Dumb Money
On its most basic level, Dumb Money hits on the financial frustrations of everyday Americans fed up with the billionaire class, and dreaming of a fantasy to get rich quick themselves. This phenomenon that took the financial world by surprise only started at the beginning of 2021, but for a time it turned the markets upside down and changed a lot of lives. As one analyst said, “it is the French Revolution of Wall Street.”
A Unique Story with a Great Cast
Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Lars and the Real Girl) clearly loves offbeat stories and he has one here thanks to a great cast of characters and a sharp script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, two former Wall Street Journal reporters who only started the script in April and May of 2021, basing it on a book proposal for The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, whose previous work became the basis for the Oscar-winning The Social Network.
The Little Guy Takes on Wall Street
At the movie’s center is Keith Gill (aka Roaring Kitty), a lowly Boston financial analyst by day who presides over an internet show in his home where he likes to talk in nerdy ways about various things happening in stocks. One day he reveals he put $55,000 into the losing GameStop stock just because he thinks it is way undervalued and loves it. So, it is a passion project, but one that thanks to the reach of the internet suddenly catches fire and turns into a big concern eventually for the hedge funds that have shorted the stock.
The Power of the Little Guy
Don’t underestimate the power of the little guy in large numbers, though; soon the GameStop stock is exploding to unheard of numbers, something that only increases when the Robinhood app run by Vlad Tenev gets involved by fueling the rise in making the stock affordable for these “retail” buyers Wall Street so looks down on, calling it “dumb money” vs their “smart money.” All the networks start paying attention and it becomes a genuine national phenomenon, even to the point of getting the serious attention of the White House and Congress. What a story. What a wildly entertaining, stand-up-and-cheer populist movie. Capra would love it.
A Cinematic Cousin
Dumb Money is a cinematic cousin of movies like The Social Network, The Big Short, and Moneyball, but it stands apart from those by throwing in an emotional component and enormous heart. It also has much in common structurally with an emerging genre in 2023: the so-called product movie, which tracks the beginnings, the rises and sometimes the falls of well-known entities. We have had Air, Tetris, Flamin’ Hot, BlackBerry, The Beanie Bubble, and now Dumb Money with its own twist on GameStop. Each of these movies is anchored by a down-on-their-luck true believer who hits the zeitgeist in one way or another, but finds trouble along the way.
A Stellar Cast
The casting could not be better. Paul Dano is ideal as Gill, a quirky guy to root for who represents what we once thought of as the custodian of the American Dream, a new-age Jimmy Stewart. Seth Rogen is a riot as a hedge-fund manipulator who slowly watches his life pass before his eyes as the stock goes up, not down. Among the rest of the cast, Shailene Woodley is lovely as Gill’s wife, America Ferrera as Jenny, a Pittsburgh nurse and true-blue follower of Gill’s every move, Anthony Ramos as Marcus, a GameStop clerk who finds the ticket to a lot more than his base salary standing behind the cash register, and Pete Davidson as Kevin, Keith’s rather dimwitted but loving brother.
A Remarkable Production
What is really remarkable about Dumb Money is the pace of production, almost side by side with changing events in the world in which it is set. Shot in 31 days, the movie will be in theaters just over two years since a script was turned in. That is remarkable because this isn’t some cheap, ripped-from-the-headlines quickie, but a top-quality film its major studio is planning a large awards-season campaign around. It deserves that consideration, and it deserves your consideration for a genuine and smart crowd pleaser this fall.
Title: Dumb Money
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Festival: Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations)
Release date: September 15, 2023 (Limited); September 29, 2023 (wide)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriters: Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo
Cast: Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson, Shailene Woodley, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan
Running time: 1 hr 40 min