Comedy-drama Dumb Money tells ‘David and Goliath story’ of GameStop short squeeze
LAS VEGAS – In January 2021, a group of nobodies began a grassroots movement to rapidly increase the stock price of American video game retailer GameStop.
And they did it so successfully that they turned the tables on several billion-dollar Wall Street hedge funds which had bet against it, making the stock go from less than US$20 (S$27) a share to more than US$500, resulting in massive losses for the funds.
“It’s sort of a David and Goliath story,” says American actor Paul Dano, who stars in Dumb Money, a new film based on the infamous GameStop “short squeeze”.
Now showing in Singapore cinemas, the comedy-drama has been warmly received, earning 84 per cent scores from both professional critics and moviegoers on the review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.
Dano plays a character based on the real-life American investor and analyst Keith Gill, one of the ringleaders in the GameStop movement.
Shailene Woodley plays his supportive wife Caroline and Pete Davidson his sceptical brother Kevin, with Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman cast as hedge fund managers.
It is Gill’s enthusiastic posts on the Internet forum Reddit, video-sharing site YouTube and social media platform X that convince many people to invest in GameStop. At one point, his US$53,000 investment in the company grows in value to almost US$50 million.
But then the billionaires fight back, and Gill and others realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Dano discussed Dumb Money at CinemaCon, the convention of movie theatre owners, in Las Vegas earlier in 2023, where he spoke alongside director and producer Craig Gillespie.
Gillespie says the story captures some of the zeitgeist during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the gulf between rich and poor became even more glaring.
“This is really about the little person,” the 56-year-old Australian film-maker adds.
“It is about what was going on at this time for a lot of people in the country. It was during Covid-19 and there was a real disconnect between the one-percenters and the regular folks, and this was in the zeitgeist.”
Many cheered on the small-time investors behind the GameStop phenomenon, and came to view what they did as a sort of common man’s revolt against Wall Street fat cats.
“All these things came together to make this moment happen and it was such a rarity, and there was a voice to be heard through this movement,” says Gillespie, who directed I, Tonya (2017) and Cruella (2022).
Dano, who most recently played Riddler in The Batman (2022) and the fictional version of Hollywood film-maker Steven Spielberg’s father in The Fabelmans (2022), could not entirely relate to the financial risks taken on by many of those involved in the GameStop saga.
“I’m smart with my money, I’m cautious with my money. I do not like gambling. I get really mad if I lose money,” says the 39-year-old, who was Emmy-nominated for the crime drama Escape At Dannemora (2018).
But this story is a fun thrill ride even if one is financially risk-averse, he says.
“I guarantee you that if you put your butt in that seat, you are going to like the movie. It’s really fun and it’s got a lot of pop.
“It’s also really moving in the end, and I think it’s about people and community,” Dano adds.
Gillespie, on the other hand, took a risk on GameStop that year because his 24-year-old son had been avidly tracking the company’s fortunes.
After “following all this craziness for months”, Gillespie excitedly invested US$10,000 into the stock. “And I timed it perfectly wrong,” he says.
This was because the New York Stock Exchange temporarily halted trading in the stock several times, and as its value plummeted, Gillespie lost his entire investment.
“But I’m glad we got to take part in it even though it didn’t end well.”
- Dumb Money is showing in cinemas.