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‘Dumb Money’ recalls GameStop squeeze, when regular folk put the screws on Wall Street

Paul Dano stars as Keith Gill in a scene from “Dumb Money.” Sony Pictures via AP

The little guy — or at least the little guy with a few hundred bucks to sink into the stock market — gets a movie to cheer with “Dumb Money,” the real story of a very recent financial rebellion that shook Wall Street to its loafers.

Paul Dano plays our hero here, Keith Gill, a new dad from the Boston suburbs who goes online to advise anyone listening about his stock picks wearing a red headband and colorful, cat-themed T-shirts. “I wouldn’t take investment advice from a guy in a cat shirt,” one character warns. But they do.

Gill was bullish on one particular company — GameStop, the struggling retail chain that sells video games and accessories. Large institutional Wall Street firms were betting the company would continue to flounder and parked money on losses.

But Gill convinced a band of smaller-pocketed and novice investors to pile in and buy GameStop stock, pushing the stock higher and higher, a so-called “short squeeze” that caused billions of loses for hedge funds. That is until Wall Street fought back (and not entirely fairly).

“Dumb Money,” whose title comes from the derisory term institutional investors call regular folk, wears its love of the little guy on its sleeve. The film uses very likable blue-collar workers and students in Texas, Pittsburgh and Boston while the Wall Street guys are cartoonishly playing tennis or are being served fancy meals by servants.

Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, two former Wall Street Journal reporters-turned-screenwriters, wrote the script and Craig Gillespie, director of the Tonya Harding black comedy “I, Tonya,” helms in a more linear, less impressionistic way than his last film.

“Dumb Money” is a sort of corrective to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Big Short,” which concentrated on boardrooms. This movie is set in dorms and basement offices and hospitals. If complex financial products were previously explained by Margot Robbie in a bathtub, this time they’re discussed by a fully-clothed nurse between rounds.

That nurse is played by America Ferrera and she's just superb, reflecting the rest of the cast of Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen. Davidson, who can be uneven, here offers a standout comedic and dramatic turn. Dano is the calm, everyman center, instantly amiable. And Cardi B's “WAP” is the delightful soundtrack connecting them.

The movie is at its most compelling when GameStop's stock soars 1,600% — making potential investors into paper millionaires but leaving them anxious about whether to ride higher or cash out. There's an almost religious belief in Gill and a visceral we're-not-gonna-take-it-anymore attitude from dumb money to the status quo.

The populist message here is clear — the longer Wall Street overlooks the value of people, the financial system will remain broken. The GameStop revolution was a corrective. “The game has changed,” Gill's wife tells him.

Gillespie enlivens the movie with snatches of real TV news coverage — CNN, Fox Business and CNBC, among them — as well as internet memes that small investors used — often populated by gorillas — that urged each other to hold onto GameStop stock not to make money but to stick it to the hedge funds, who squeeze profits by big layoffs.

The movie's end is unsatisfying but not because of any fault of the filmmakers. The stock frenzy of 2021 caused the failure of a hedge fund and exposed some troubling practices from the mobile trading platform Robinhood. But Wall Street — like the slogan on Gill's kitty poster — keeps hanging in there.

“Dumb Money,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated R for “pervasive language, sexual material, and drug use.” Running time: 110 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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