Thursday, September 21, 2023

Little guys want to get rich, too


      Some subjects don’t lend themselves to movies. The GameStop stock craze might be one of them. 
      Dumb Money — a movie about the short squeeze that hit GameStop stock in 2021— doesn't always clarify its complexities. The result: A lot of conversations about financial matters that aren’t likely to find a place in anyone's encyclopedia of great movie dialogue.
     Paul Dano plays Keith Gill, an obscure financial analyst who turned buying GameStop stock into a cause. With help from his YouTube channel, Gill created a legion of acolytes who followed his lead.
      The movie's supporting characters divide into small investors and big-time market movers. 
       The small fry struggle to outwit the big money and are represented by America Ferrara, as a single mom and hard-working nurse; Myha’la Harold and Talia Ryder, as college students who took a gamble; and Anthony Ramos, as a worker at a GameStop store.
      Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya and Cruella) sketches in several big-ticket investors: Vincent D’Onofrio plays hedge fund manager Steve Cohen; Nick Offerman appears as hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; and Seth Rogen portrays Gabe Plotkin, the financier who ran an investment company called Melvin Capital. 
     Sebastian Stan signs on as Vlad Tenev, a co-founder of  Robinhood, the trading app that became an important part of the saga.
     Gill comes closest to giving a scattered movie its center. We meet his wife (Shailene Woodley), his parents (Kate Burton and Clancy Brown) and his brother (Pete Davidson). Davidson provides comic flavor, adding a dose of cynicism and snark to the proceedings.
      Gillespie bolsters the movie’s authenticity with news clips, and uses graphics to show the net worth of each of the main characters perhaps to highlight major disparities between the rich and the wannabes.
        Dumb Money remains watchable, perhaps because it sweeps past us without worrying too much about dotting every "i'' and crossing every "t.'' You may want to do some googling about short squeezes or you simply can get the story's gist:  Based on their assessment that online purchases during a pandemic would push GameStop to the edge of bankruptcy, the Big Boys started short selling the stock. 
    The little guys kept buying, driving the stock price upward. Until trouble struck, the dumb money — Wall Street’s derogatory name for individual investors — seemed to be winning.
       Basing his movie on The Antisocial Network, a book by Ben Mezrich,  Gillespie gives the characters more quirks than depth.
         Gill calls himself Roaring Kitty and wraps a bandana around his forehead before positioning himself at his computer. He's also a compulsive runner.
       Cohen, who now owns the New York Mets, tosses food at the pet pig who shares his house, and Plotkin nervously juggles two homes while watching his investment company slide down the drain.
      But here’s the thing: These aren’t the most intriguing characters ever to reach the screen. The rich guys are pompous, callous and often avaricious. The little guys hope to better their lives. Everyone wants to emerge a winner.
        Sans an overriding  point of view, Dumb Money plays like a footnote to a larger story that's left untold. The movie asks us to root for the average folks without wondering why a nurse must struggle to pay her mortgage or why two college students at the University of Texas spend all their time thinking about money.
      Credit Dumb Money with generating a few laughs but the movie  doesn't leave us with much reason to invest additional thought in a story that rehashes yesterday's news.

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