Dumb Money review: Paul Dano stock market movie rises to the occasion

The memestock craze gets its moment on the big screen.

Pete Davidson and Paul Dano in Dumb Money
(Image: © Sony Pictures)

What to Watch Verdict

A strong ensemble, a top of his game Paul Dano and an underdog spirit makes Dumb Money feel like the Rocky of Wall Street movies.


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    Paul Dano highlights a strong ensemble

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    Champions the underdogs for an uplifting message


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    Surprisingly, the hedge fund villains aren’t despicable enough

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    A small barrier of entry (though ultimately remedied)

I have to admit, I was did not fully understand what was going on with the memestock craze in early 2021 that saw GameStop stocks (along with movie theater chain AMC) go through the roof. While Craig Gillespie's Dumb Money did not convince me to go into day-trading, it entirely succeeds in showcasing the David and Goliath aspect this moment in time with his entertaining screen adaptation.

Paul Dano and the ensemble of players portraying the retail investors that Wall Street hot shots refer to as "dumb money" successfully portray the underdog spirit, making Dumb Money feel like the Rocky of Wall Street movies.

If you need a reminder, Dumb Money is about the 2021 stock revolution that saw millions of everyday people go up against powerful hedge funds that attempted to "short" (basically bet against) the video game store chain GameStop. With Keith Gill (Dano), better known as his social media persona Roaring Kitty, as a symbol of this revolution, average people from around the country put their money on the line buying GameStop stock, raising its value to incredible heights. That's when Wall Street attempts to take back control.

The strength of Dumb Money is its ensemble portraying the retail investors who often purchased their first GameStop stocks with little money to their name or in debt. The movie is never better than when we are seeing these characters put so much at risk, but knowing that they are not alone and hold the line to not only have the stock continue to rise, but stick it to the power players that typically run the racket.

Dano gives one of his better performances as Gill. For better or worse, Dano's most memorable roles see him playing a creep or mischievous character (There Will Be Blood, Prisoners or The Batman), but here we get to see him embrace the social media persona of Roaring Kitty, which is a blast. Then, when he's just Keith Gill, he gives off the calm and confident nature of someone who knows what he is talking about and is not misleading the other characters.

Meanwhile, America Ferrera (having a great year between this and Barbie) and Pete Davidson highlight the rest of the ensemble, along with Shailene Woodley, Anthony Ramos, Myha'la Herrold and Talia Ryder.

The weak link in the cast of characters are the hedge fund managers, played by Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman and Vincent D'Onofrio. That's not a dig at their individual performances, but their characters are supposed to be the big bads of the movie and yet it struggles to effectively portray them as greedy, scheming villains. It makes a few attempts, but the casting of generally-liked Rogen and Offerman in these roles may not have been the best decision.

Seth Rogen in Dumb Money

Seth Rogen in Dumb Money (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

The lone exception may be Sebastian Stan's Vlad Tenev, who as the CEO of Robinhood, the app that many of these retail investors used to get into the market, is the most interesting antagonist. His app was initially meant to champion the little guy, but he was truly just another wolf in sheep's clothing. We just don't get enough of that dynamic for it to work to its full effect.

Behind the camera, Craig Gillespie has mastered bringing "based on a true story" projects to the screen. Following I, Tonya and Pam & Tommy, Gillespie (along with writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo) find the right entry point to the story — the us against the world mentality of the retail investors — and fill it with the appropriate energy to keep things fresh. In this case, the reddit memes and lingo that was the rallying call for this moment in history.

One small quibble is the flash forward that starts the movie. It puts audiences right into the moment the GameStop craze really took off and if you didn't understand what all this was (like me) or had forgotten many of the details, it may take a few moments to adjust as Rogen and D'Onofrio’s character talk Wall Street jargon. The movie does course correct and effectively explains all the basics you need to know, so by the end of the movie you should be good.

The obvious comparison that Dumb Money is going to get is The Big Short. The two have their obvious similarities and viewpoints, mainly that big hedge funds and banks take advantage of a rigged system. The difference is The Big Short's main goal is to explain how the 2008 market crash came to be and its impact. Dumb Money is more interested in the individuals who took on a system, believing in each other and affecting real change. That's what makes it a worthwhile watch.

Dumb Money opens September 15 in select US cities. It then opens wide in the US and UK on September 22.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.