I rarely get angry after seeing a movie, and, even if so, I don’t like to write unnecessarily harsh reviews. Filmmaking is a laborious enterprise, which people pour their hearts and souls into. Oftentimes, the results are not great, but in most cases I stay mum, choosing to respect the effort not the outcome.

It’s only when I feel a movie is cynical or intellectually dishonest (any Michael Moore film) that I sometimes want to go on record and detail why. Such was my reaction after concluding Dumb Money.

Forgive the tardiness of this review. In so far as films have traditional release dates any more (few do), it looks like Dumb Money came out in the fall of 2023. I only saw it when it became available on Netflix in January of 2024.

Dumb Money is the story of small time financial investors who got behind the rise of the stock Game Stop (stock symbol GME) in 2021, while big Wall Street hedge funds and other investment firms were betting it would fall.

The rush to buy and stay loyal to Game Stop was led by a basement YouTuber, nicknamed Roaring Kitty. It’s not entirely clear why he loved the Game Stop stock other than it was “undervalued.” He was not without acumen in finance, but people seemed to love his on-camera antics more than his wisdom, and when word spread to the advice-sharing website Reddit the buying frenzy took off.

Via Reddit, it became known Wall Street firms were shorting the stock (betting the price would fall). Whether the stock was a good or a bad buy, whether the company’s fundamentals were strong or weak soon became irrelevant.

This was about the little guys inflicting pain on hedge fund traders. It was no accident the app “Robinhood” was the conduit through which these small time traders placed their orders. Indeed, as the movie details, that’s how many of these investors saw themselves—latter day Robin Hoods, who were not so much concerned about making or losing money but instead bringing down some fat cat.

Why did this movie anger me? Am I pro Wall Street? Or anti-Main Street? The answer to both these questions is ‘no,’ but Dumb Money perturbed me because it is purposefully, knowingly disingenuous. Either that, or it is so lacking in self awareness as to wonder if the filmmakers understand irony at all.

Ben Mezrich wrote the book upon which this movie was based. Ben Mezrich is a cottage industry now. He first came to prominence with the book Bringing Down the House. That book chronicled the effort of statisticians and card counters to get an edge on black jack games and thereby rake in millions before casinos could catch wise to the plan. It was a compelling read and became an instant sensation. So much so Hollywood came calling and subsequently produced a very forgettable movie version.

Since then, Mezrich has produced a number of books which have also become films. I don’t know the deal he might have with studios, but it seems as if before the book is even written a movie version is in place. So, from my point of view, Mezrich picks his topics and stories with film productions in mind. This is not necessarily a negative, but if you are continually replaying the ‘little guy puts one over on the big guy’ theme because you think that’s what Hollywood wants (and audiences as well), it begins to feel you are less on the lookout for authentic, organic stories but stretching to find things to confirm a bias or pad pockets.

Dumb Money is a poor man’s The Big Short, which was a poor man’s production of limousine liberalism run amok. But at least The Big Short’s backdrop was one of the biggest financial collapses of our times (the 2007-08 great recession). The entire economy crashed, and a movie about it was surely understandable—even if The Big Short was dishonest and hypocritical.

Dumb Money is equally dishonest and hypocritical, but its backdrop was a few news cycles, and it is now merely an oddity. Mezrich and the film staked a lot on audiences believing this was an event of long lasting impact. Ask most people about the Game Stop short squeeze today (only a couple of years after its occurrence) and they might think it’s a baseball situation.

But that is the least of Dumb Money’s problems. What really wrankled me is the pose this film struck, the tone it sounded. David versus Goliath yes, but all these people risking life savings (or significant amounts) to stick it to a hedge fund trader made me ill. And they were all following a pied piper of sorts. Maybe Roaring Kitty was a true visionary and maybe an MBA from Harvard is not necessary to procure financial and market insight, but many people were, at least according to the film, imperiling their financial future based on his say so.

I have no doubt Mezrich’s book is merely a version of events and could be highly ahistorical. I’m sure the film strays even further from the truth, but many films of course do this. I wasn’t looking for a one hundred percent faithful reproduction of history in this movie, but the fatuousness of Dumb Money was over the top.

Where does the financing of most studio or high-budget films come from? Deep breath…Wall Street banks or even, sometimes—deeper breath—hedge funds. Where do the filmmakers of Dumb Money think Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and other Hollywood heavy hitters park their billions? Not in a Robinhood account. They have asset managers and financial service firms (and probably hedge funds) investing their money.

It is truly wonderful that financial investing has been democratized. Before the internet and smart phones one had to go through a broker and pay hefty commissions to trade. Now, with tools like E-Trade or even more powerful investment houses like Fidelity and Vanguard offering anyone the ability to trade on their phone (and with very low fees), the average person can have control of their investments like never before.

That could be wise or unwise, but I know this: the everyday investor would be better off putting his or her money in a conservative mutual fund than buying naked call options on a company (Game Stop) they don’t know or understand—and all just to try to hobble a supposedly evil hedge fund trader.

At the beginning of Dumb Money, the Game Stop stock is trading at around $4.00 per share. It is soon bid up to over $100. Some people made money and some lost, but all the proof you need about how manipulated the price of this stock was (by the supposed Robinhoods trying to bankrupt the Sheriff of Nottingham) can be seen just a couple of years later.

As of the publication date of this review, GME is trading at around $14 per share. It hasn’t been higher than $25 in a year. Its market capitalization is about $4.5 billion. Netflix, the platform on which Dumb Money is streaming, trades for about $560 per share today. It’s 52 week low was $292 per share, and it has a whopping market value of about $243 billion. That is, Robin Hood is worse off and the Sheriff of Nottingham not dead and richer than ever.

Can Hollywood be anymore self involved than to put out a movie disparaging the wealth and greed of Wall Street when its own coffers are so full and it is inextricably bound up in the financial system it is critiquing?

In first-rate, high finance films such as Wall Street and Margin Call, there is also preachiness, but neither of these movies mocks its own characters. Dumb Money, a la The Big Short, is constantly cracking wise. It felt like the movie couldn’t go two minutes without someone sassing another. Gordon Gecko wasn’t an admirable character, but he was understandable. Bud Fox wanted to be Gordon Gecko and his journey revealed how this corrupted his soul. Dumb Money’s villains are moustache-twirling from the get go, and the other characters only exist to take them down like James Bond always does his nemeses.

In Wall Street and Margin Call there might be isolated moments of humor, but those films treat their subjects seriously and fairly—even if they don’t deserve pity.

The term ‘dumb money’ is how hot shot traders and hedge fund managers refer to average investors. They are not considered to be smart enough or savvy enough to compete with the top jocks of Wall Street.

But Dumb Money thinks of its audience much the same way high finance is supposedly characterizing individual investors: that is, the producers of this movie think the viewer is too stupid to be presented an honest rendering of the landscape of stock market trading in the age of phone apps and social media. The characters in Dumb Money don’t have balance or depth. They are either good guys or pricks.

I should point out this review has entirely focused on the subject matter and the dramatic purpose of Dumb Money, excluding technical aspects. The film is professionally directed, acted, edited, and scored. But artisanal competency cannot come close to outweighing the jaded nature of the screenplay.

As a scriptwriter myself, I think this is why the movie bothered me so much. Dumb Money’s writing is cheap and exploitative and not at all illuminating. I hope, given some time and distance, any admirers of it come to understand this. Ignorance and naivete can be forgiven but hucksterism not, whether it be a swinging dick trader or Hollywood filmmaker.


About The Author

Randy Steinberg has been a Blast film critic since 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Film/Screenwriting from Boston University. He taught screenwriting at BU from 1999-2010. In 2020, he joined the Boston Online Critics Film Association (BOFCA). Randy can be contacted at his website: www.RandySteinbergWriting.com

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