Steal from the rich, give to the poor : it’s a dream those of us who fall into the latter category can’t help but have. Dumb Money tells the story of one time that dream became a reality, telling the real-life story of how Reddit users banded together and bought GameStop stock, punishing predatory hedge fund managers and getting rich in one easy move. It’s the perfect underdog story, with clear heroes and villains, all set to a punky, rebellious soundtrack… And yet, the film felt gross and unsatisfying. I had a vague idea why, and the credits only confirmed my suspicions : its executive producers are none other than Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.
If the name sounds familiar but you don’t know why, you might remember them as the antagonists in The Social Network where they were portrayed more or less as spoiled old money brats - it’s no wonder why they hate being known for that. The issue isn’t with their family, though. The only way I can think of explaining why the Winklevii involvement in the film soured it is by comparing Dumb Money to American Animals. Despite being very different thematically, they have the same general feeling of the story being suspiciously smooth and palatable. When I saw American Animals, I assumed this was a result of the real-life versions of the characters being involved in the creation. The film ends up showing them in a just slightly too favourable light which makes it feel uncritical and hollow despite how fun it is.
Unsurprisingly, the Winklevoss twins too have a certain angle they want to sell in the film. After the mess with Facebook, they struggled to invest because many companies were afraid of working with them. In the end, then, they turned to “counter-culture” financial options like cryptocurrency and NFTs to continue to grow their wealth. Given that both are aiming to work outside of regulated financial systems such as the stock market, it’s no surprise that the Winklevoss brothers would create a film where Wall Street is the one-dimensional villain and the underdogs take control of the financial system for their own benefit. Dumb Money isn’t an advertisement for their company, exactly, but it definitely feels like it's trying to encourage people to be more “revolutionary” in ways that would encourage adoption of the Winklevii’s products.
I put “revolutionary” in quotes because it’s one of the most annoying aspects of the film. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable movie, but the story is more entertaining than it is incisive. There are too many obvious questions for me to buy the idea that what Redditors did was that impactful. Dumb Money really tried to convince you that it was, highlighting how hedge fund managers now pay attention to the retail investors they used to call “dumb money” and don’t short stocks as much as they used to, which is good I guess. At the end of the day, though, the film presents a story of people beating the wealthy at their own game - it would have been much more satisfying if they broke the game entirely though.
Obviously since the film is based on real events, they can’t just completely change the ending, so I can’t really complain about how things ended. To tell the same story in a more compelling manner, though, Dumb Money could have at least tried to examine the fact that the broken system was still the same when the dust settled. One of the most uncomfortable moments is when we see Seth Rogen’s character call his hedge fund manager “friends” and ask them to bail him out as his company has lost billions of dollars due to the GameStop stock. It’s clear that the audience is supposed to feel a sense of schadenfreude as he becomes indebted (and by his own philosophy, enslaved) to his friends - after all, while the common people suffer from the pandemic, he’s complaining that the construction of his private tennis court has been delayed. Should we really feel good at seeing him get dragged down to suffer with everyone else though?
This is the heart of the issue with the film. It’s not about creating a more just system and improving everyone’s lives, it’s about personal benefit and tearing down the tyrants, which isn’t the inspirational counter-culture message the creators seem to think it is. Why should I cheer when a man’s life comes crashing down before his eyes? Why should I like a person who is profiting from influencing others to buy stock even though he knows the game will end with huge losses for at least some of the people who are following him? I’m genuinely asking, because the film didn’t give me a good answer to either. As Keith Gill, the leader of the movement, gains more and more millions of dollars, I don’t see him as the humble guy the film wants me to see him as. Instead, I can’t help but think that there’s only so long that a person can rob from the rich and give to the poor before the poor become rich too, so nothing really changes.
In the end, I can’t really say that Dumb Money isn’t worth watching. It was fun and exciting while also capturing the financial torment of average Americans, not to mention that it’s one of the few films I’ve seen that is so blunt about being set during the pandemic. If you decide to watch it, though, I’d recommend approaching it as something light and enjoyable; as soon as you start thinking about it too much, it loses a lot of its charm.