Anti-capitalist comedy “Dumb Money”: millions on paper

The comedy “Dumb Money” tells of the stock market turmoil surrounding GameStop shares. And about the behavior surrounding making big money.

He causes unexpected trouble for hedge funds: Paul Dano as Keith Gill in “Dumb Money” Photo: Leonine

The genre is more American than the Western, but mysteriously has never been given a catchy name: films about making big money. The best-known is probably still Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” from 1987, in which Michael Douglas sings his emblematic “Greed Is Good” into the camera.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” with Leonardo DiCaprio caused little enthusiasm in 2013, but is now considered one of Martin Scorsese’s masterpieces. Adam McKay’s “The Big Short”, on the other hand, was one of the big films of the 2015/2016 “Awards Season” and has firmly established itself in the cultural memory thanks to Margot Robbie, who explains the buzzword of the 2008 financial crisis “credit default swap” in the bubble bath burned in.

McKay’s film – which, like Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money”, is a film adaptation of a non-fiction book – also best explains what making money this nameless genre is about: not about burglary, not about trickery or starting a business (everything Activities with their own subgenres), but about stock market business.

Official definitions like to speak of a “market in which prices for securities or goods are determined according to supply and demand”. Adam McKay, on the other hand, uses the roulette and casino metaphor several times in his film.

“Dumb Money – Quick Money”. Director: Craig Gillespie. With Paul Dano, Pete Davidson and others USA 2023, 105 min.

The special thing about “The Big Short” was that it was about stockbrokers and fund managers who had not bet on winning, but rather on losing and thus making a huge mess. They were the heroes because they saw through the speculative bubble in the real estate lending business. In “Dumb Money,” which focuses on the story of the rise and fall of GameStop shares, these types of short sellers are now the clear antiheroes again.

Assets of $16 billion

They are introduced in the intro: hedge fund managers like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) or Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), all with their estimated assets between $500 million and $16 billion. A chain of telephone conversations connects these characters, who are shown in January 2021 doing their typical rich activities, such as getting a massage or arguing with real estate agents: “I just want to buy the villa so I can tear it down so I can have a tennis court can build!”

Into the idyll of this “one-percenter”, which has been largely untouched by Covid, comes the news of the rising price of a share that is considered worthless: that of the video game store chain GameStop. But this particularly makes Plotkin sweat, because his Melvin Capital hedge fund has invested heavily in short sales of this stock.

After Plotkin and company, the film introduces its real heroes: the small investors. Guys like GameStop store clerk Marcus, whose net worth is $136, or nurse Jenny (America Ferrera), whose account shows a loss of $45,644. Or the students Riri (Myhal’a Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder), whose tuition fees leave them with $145,000 or even $185,000 in debt. They’re all shown getting inspiration from YouTube videos from a guy who calls himself “Roaring Kitty” and “believes in GameStop stock.”

Mockery and striking dialogues

The man who goes on air in the basement of his house in a small town in Massachusetts with a beer in his hand, wearing a cat T-shirt and a red headband, is Keith Gill (Paul Dano). The young father explains to his followers why he is investing his $53,000 savings in GameStop shares, and Jenny, Marcus and all the others watch him on their cell phones and press “Buy.” Another not insignificant element of the story is the mobile phone app “Robinhood” (and its slightly smarmy founder), which makes trading on the stock market a supposedly free child’s play.

Despite all the tedious financial details, Gillespie’s film strikes a relaxed tone with distinctive, sharp-tongued dialogue and mockery of stock market behavior in the midst of the Corona winter of 2020/2021. In the close family drama surrounding Keith Gill, whose ne’er-do-well brother is played by the brilliant “Saturday Night Life” comedian Pete Davidson, he also manages to create moments of genuine emotion. The film sticks surprisingly closely to the facts, although the story may be a little more complicated than is suggested at the end, when, to the drumming beat of Seven Nation Army, the power of retail investors is invoked, no longer ignored by the world’s hedge funds could.

The process itself is more contradictory. Oh yeah, the short sellers got a real scare when they found themselves being driven into a short squeeze by “Yolo Kidz” on Reddit. America Ferrera as Jenny explains on behalf of all the others that she invests in GameStop not just to make money, but to show “them”. “Them” – “Them? Do you hear what you’re saying?” her hospital colleague asks pointedly at one point – these are the banks and Wall Street sharks who get their losses compensated by taxpayers and are also involved in the ruin of companies and the dismissal of workers Earn money.

Sit on the longer lever

This time, if Jenny has her way, they shouldn’t have the upper hand. She “holds” her portfolio – and sometimes has a surplus of half a million. The incentive to sell is getting stronger. Keith Gill becomes a real mogul with over 80 million in his portfolio. But only on paper.

The fact that the film remains alive despite all this is thanks to its prominent cast of actors who manage to always give their clichéd characters just enough heart so that they don’t completely become caricatures. But what “Dumb Money” really impresses with is less its fidelity to the facts than the fact that, like “Wall Street”, it primarily portrays a certain behavior, a special language and the culture involved: the Reddit forum “Wallstreetbets”, for example, on which GameStop is located -Make friends and swear like in the sailors’ taverns of the 19th century.

Keith Gill’s Roaring Kitty videos, with their strange mix of kitten and claw. And the social media tinkerings reproduced in montage sequences with their gifs and short film formats in which the chest-beating, macho and roaring scenes from films like “King Kong”, “Braveheart” or “Planet of the Apes” are edited together again and again to express all the intense feelings that come with money and making money.

By the way, “Dumb Money” also works as one of the best depictions of the Corona era as such. Just pay attention to who is wearing a mask in which scenes, which means: has to wear it. Spoiler alert: They are not the hedge fund managers portrayed by Nick Offerman or Seth Rogen. In this alone, the film traces a shockingly precise sociogram of who was most affected by lockdown and Covid and how social inequality was directly written on their faces during it.

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