Earlier this year, “Air” proved to be a surprisingly entertaining tale despite the fact the entire plot of the movie focused on the signing of a shoe contract. Director Ben Affleck managed to present the inner workings of big business through interesting characters to make the movie the biggest enjoyable surprise of the year.
Then there is “Dumb Money.” This behind-the-scenes look at the stock market is a muddled mess of stereotypical characters and financial jargon. There is a brief explanation of the film title but even that comes across as vague. The David vs. Goliath aspect is obvious but, in this case, David is annoying and Goliath is even more annoying.
The film – based on the real story that unfolded during the closing days of the pandemic – looks at how a little-known internet influencer, Keith Gill (Paul Dano), turned Wall Street into a dead end with his unrelenting support of a failing stock, GameStop. He manages to convince everyday people to buy the stock, driving the price up and in the process making big investment companies lose billions of dollars.
Director Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) fails to present a clear picture of the inner workings of Wall Street. Films dealing with the stock market face the challenge of finding the level of presenting enough information to the audience to understand the wheeling and dealing while not pandering to those who already know the difference between a Bull and Bear Market. This film is completely out of balance.
The 2011 release “Too Big to Fail” dealt with a far more complicated story with the examination of the 2008 financial meltdown. Director Curtis Hanson found the right balance of providing information while never shortchanging the production on entertainment value.
“Dumb Money” dives directly into a world where Wall Street types can buy into a stock where they will make money if it fails. Gillespie drives ahead never pausing to make sure this upside down thinking actually makes sense.
Some of the other financial elements are more clear cut. As interest in GameStop grows and more shares are purchased, the more the value goes up. Gillespie never delves deeply into why average people would continue to support a stock even after it had earned them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Little help comes from Dano whose approach to acting is equivalent to white furniture in an all-white room. It serves the purpose but there is nothing about which to get excited. He should have been a better emotional conduit for the audience.
Dano fades even more into the background in scenes with Shailene Woodley as his wife. Every emotion plays out on her face while Dano’s emotional range is a slight raising of an eyebrow. She saves what is intended to be the emotional heart of the story.
No one else comes close. Seth Rogan, Nick Offerman and Vincent D’Onofrio are the major financial players and each lack any original personal qualities. They are rich people with massive egos and no social skills. They are not supposed to get any sympathy but leaving them as paper cutouts hurts the whole project.
There are some acting extremes. Pete Davidson continues to show he can only play a dope-smoking pest who offers nothing to the story. And Sebastian Stan’s portrayal of billionaire Vled Tenev could have been interesting, but he only has brief moments on screen.
Writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo introduce a handful of average people to give some context to the everyman angle of the story. There’s a GameStop worker (Anthony Ramos), a nurse (America Ferrera) and two college students. Each could have had an interesting story, but they are reduced to staring at their phones and pondering when to sell their stocks and when to hold on to their shares.
“Dumb Money” never pays off because of a muddled concept, weak characters and a failed effort to create any real winners in the tale of the little guy versus big financial institutions. Interest starts low and keeps dropping to the point of tedium.
It is an obvious evaluation, but “Dumb Money” is a dumb movie.
Cast: Paul Dano, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogan, Nick Offerman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Anthony Ramos, America Ferrera.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Rated: R for language, drug use, sexual material, brief nudity
Running time: 105 minutes.