Review: ‘Dumb Money’ Clears But Fails to Win Big

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Dumb Money does what it needs to do as a movie about recent history: it tells the story. But it doesn’t do much more. 

Based on the non-fiction book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, Dumb Money follows The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short as a dramedy about not-too-distant Wall Street history. Each successive film in this trio of Wall Street movies has chronicled evermore-recent history, with Dumb Money dramatizing events from just over two years ago. 

But that recency doesn’t help Dumb Money compete with its forebears. Instead, the film can’t escape comparison to those other films, which it explicitly (in the case of The Wolf of Wall Street) and implicitly (in the case of The Big Short) references, and doesn’t quite stack up. 

Too Many People and Too Much to Say

America Ferrera Dumb Money
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures.

Dumb Money lacks narrative focus. The film follows upwards of six main characters, each with their own supporting cast, and attempts to evoke the emotional toll of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of its inherent class divide theme. 

Recreational investor and analyst Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty (Paul Dano), first urges his fellow Reddit users to invest in the GameStop stock. He thinks the big hedge funds undervalue it as a beloved store of gamers still frequent, even during the pandemic. Dumb Money then highlights several other “retail investors,” non-professionals who use apps like Robinhood to trade stocks, who follow Gill’s advice and become part of a movement that sends the price of GameStop stock skyrocketing. That sudden rise then causes problems for professional investors who had been “shorting” (betting against) the GameStop stock, like hedge fund managers Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), whom the film also follows. 

The broad focus allows Dumb Money to communicate the popularity of the GameStop stock buying surge. But that wide focus also draws away from its characters. There are too many characters and not enough time spent with them for any real emotional connection to grow between viewers and characters, even Gill. In fact,  the film's attempts to build emotional stakes for Gill, partly motivated by his recently deceased sister, feel a bit contrived. 

A History Lesson Without a Financial Literacy Lesson

Vincent D'Onofrio Dumb Money
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures.

The film’s major plot points, at least in the journey of the stock and its relationship to the professional investors, can’t be accused of contrivance. But the movie doesn't explain the ins and outs of stock trading for the uninitiated. The script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo does an excellent job of moving things along, focusing on the impact these ups and downs have on people’s lives. But Dumb Money never gets into the details about what is happening with the stock beyond some brief conversations between characters already in the know. 

It’s not precisely a failing that the film doesn’t explain the ins and outs of its terminology, but it does feel like a missed opportunity. As pedantic as some may find the fourth wall breaks in The Big Short, those snippets provided valuable explainers for viewers unfamiliar with the intricacies of the stock market. That kind of commentary could benefit Dumb Money, which doesn't do a great job of explaining what a “squeeze” is to those who don't work in finance.

A Story Better Suited to a Serialized Medium

Nick Offerman Seth Rogen Dumb Money
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures.

Those many characters and the lack of detail about the financial realities that drive the story make Dumb Money feel less like a subpar or passable film and more like a missed opportunity for a great television show. There’s not enough time here for audiences to invest (forgive the pun) in the film’s characters or learn more about how the stock market works. 

A serialized medium might also allow the story to convey its themes of Wall Street greed and impunity through fuller explorations of the lives of both amateur and professional investors. As it stands, the film relies on several big speeches with swelling music and a scene of students in a classroom learning about Marxism to ensure the audience understands what’s at stake and why this story is important. 

That’s all the more disappointing because there are some fantastic performances here. America Ferrera (who may be the actor of the year for her work here and in Barbie) as a single mom hoping to get out of debt and Vincent D’Onofrio as a billionaire investor deliver magnetic work. Olivia Thirlby, an actor who should be a major star, has a small but impactful role as the wife of one of the professional investors. 

Dumb Money is a sometimes funny, sometimes angry, and ultimately forgettable true story movie that bites off more than it can chew. 

Rating: 6/10 SPECS

Dumb Money opens nationwide on September 29. We’ve got the latest on movies in theaters now.

Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Screen Anarchy, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Kyle has an MA in philosophy from Boston College, is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, and along with writing, organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.