Dumb Money opens with a totally nonsensical needle drop of Cardi B’s “WAP.” Perhaps the filmmakers would argue that the purpose of this song is to place us immediately and viscerally in a not-long-forgotten era. We are meant to recall the height of pandemic insanity, where we all were stuck-ish inside, and people like Ben Shapiro had the time to read the “WAP” lyrics and clutch their pearls, while we had the time and energy to try out baking bread, getting into yoga, or, as Dumb Money suggests was a common pastime, figuring out small-scale investments on the Robinhood app.
But I think “WAP” mainly inexplicably introduces the film in an attempt to try and convince us that this movie is fun. If Dumb Money wants one thing, it really, really wants to be fun. The film attempts to create this sense of fun through a sort of algorithmic checkbox approach. There’s Paul Dano in Hot Topic cat shirts, Seth Rogen as a bumbling rich finance dude, endless meme- and Reddit-based content montages, and so many oddly-placed 2021 needle drops that it’s almost physically painful.
But Dumb Money’s attempt to tick off these quirky boxes doesn’t make the film all that fun, let alone funny, and it certainly doesn’t make the events more interesting than they were a little less than three years ago. Dumb Money tracks the GameStop stock short squeeze. In short, a bunch of average joes were encouraged by fellow average joe YouTuber Keith Gill (played in Dumb Money by Paul Dano) and Wall Street Bets, a quickly growing subreddit, to purchase GameStop stock and drive up the price of the company’s shares.
Dumb Money attempts to add some depth to the story by considering the actual people involved in the short squeeze — nurses and retail workers and broke college students suddenly making way more money than they’d ever dreamt of. But even I, a not-all-that-financially-savvy woman, could’ve taken a wild guess at what happened without watching this movie. Some people lost money, and some people gained it, and it didn’t turn out great for the big bad hedge fund companies (though, unsurprisingly, it didn’t turn out all that bad, either).
Perhaps where the film is most at risk of being critiqued is in its attempt to represent the Redditors who made this short squeeze happen through community action and a group refusal to “hold the line” and not sell stocks. I suppose a certain demographic still writes off Reddit as the social media for unhappy, mean geeks, but, like most social media platforms, it’s a vast space with many uses for many different people.
Dumb Money seems very concerned with its audience thinking of Reddit as a space for incels and dweebs, and spends much of its time insisting that normal people can exist on there, too. Somehow, the more Dumb Money attempts to dispel myths about Reddit and “the little guys” in stock trading, the more the film feels like they’re actually painting these groups with broad strokes. The inclusion of endless GIFs, memes, and even the IRL deposition that came after the GameStop short squeeze make everything seem — as the very people they’re trying to make seem heroic would describe — “cringey.” (Besides, is anything that cool and underground if Elon Musk is a part of it?)
Dumb Money’s biggest crime is going too broad in almost all senses — trying to tell the whole story, in its full timeline, from every possible perspective, and in a way that will be universally understood. What about finances, the pandemic, or the Internet can possibly be universally understood? Trying to do so leaves us with something pretty dumb.