“Dumb Money” (2023) – Roaring Kitty!
Who or what is Roaring Kitty?
It sounds like a CrossFit team name or a Cats of Instagram sensation.
In director Craig Gillespie’s (“Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), “I, Tonya” (2017)) Wall Street dramedy/biopic, Roaring Kitty is Keith Gill’s (Paul Dano) YouTube handle. You see, Keith offers investment advice to his followers all over the U.S.A. and beyond.
Craig and screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo didn’t make up this moniker out of thin air. “Dumb Money” is based on Keith’s real-life story, as he shouted from the mountain tops – in 2021 – about the market value of GameStop, the retail outlet that sells video games. Actually, he declared his financial beliefs from his basement, but his efforts churned a firestorm of dismay and disbelief that received worldwide attention on television, in corporate boardrooms, and from small-time investors.
“Dumb Money” is an underdog story in the dog-eat-dog world of the financial markets, where massive canines with billions in wealth carry colossal (and essentially all the) power over average investors who seem like tiny puppies in comparison, or in Keith’s case, a kitten.
But through the power of the Internet, Keith and legions of individual financiers find themselves with a seat at the table, a place they weren’t previously allowed.
With a runtime of 105 minutes, the film allocates the first 35 – which, admittedly, is quite a while – to introduce the on-screen players, as Gillespie draws stark differences between the few giants of monetary royalty and several paupers.
We see Steve (Vincent D’Onofrio), Ken (Nick Offerman), and Gabe (Seth Rogen) enjoying their modern-day castle-like domiciles and swanky resorts, as they seem like the male versions of Marie Antoinette while eating their cakes. They create a stark contrast with GameStop worker Marcus (Anthony Ramos), college students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold), and nurse Jenny (America Ferrera), who have little to negative liquidity, but the latter four are anonymously connected to Roaring Kitty.
Ramos and Ferrera are particularly good at gaining our sympathy for Marcus and Jenny.
(Two 30-something know-it-alls, Vlad (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju (Rushi Kota), from a company called Robinhood, appear during the movie’s 35th minute. They are barely heard from again until the 3rd act, but there’s a method to Gillespie’s madness.)
Keith religiously sits in front of his multiple monitors in his non-descript space, and Marcus, Harmony, Riri, and Jenny watch and listen as their 30-something online financial advisor recommends GameStop as a stock, trading at about three dollars.
Will they or won’t they buy?
Keith follows his own advice. They do too, and so do countless others.
Suddenly, this dog-with-fleas stock with questionable fundamentals starts barking upward while Keith and many others roar and purr with delight.
The film gleefully and rapidly jumps from investor to investor, between the haves and have-nots, as the former curses GameStop’s success, and the latter lauds it!
Essentially, Gillespie gives us lessons (through a palatable and consumable fashion) in current-day investing as we discover the definitions of dumb money, shorts, diamond hands, and a squeeze play.
Granted, it’s not easy to absorb these Finance 401 tutorials, but all you need to know is that D’Onofrio, Offerman, and Rogen are the villains as we observe a race to the top or bottom. Hopefully, our heroes rise to ivory-tower heights, and the baddies end up in their mothers’ basements.
Keith broadcasts his ideas from his cellar, of course, and Gillespie, Blum, and Angelo carve out thoughtful amounts of movie minutes to explore the dynamics with Keith’s family, including his parents, supportive wife (Shailene Woodley), and belligerent brother (Pete Davidson).
Kevin (Davidson) adds zero value to the film’s financial equations, and he receives too much screen time, given the subject matter. Still, Davidson offers comic relief, as the SNL alum plays one of the biggest on-screen lunkheads in recent memory. Yes, D’Onofrio’s, Offerman’s, and Rogen’s characters are pretty horrible human beings, but they aren’t as acidic and abrasive during their day-to-day stomping on millions of working stiffs.
Frankly, it’s a good thing that the aforementioned three actors are recognizable faces because Steve, Ken, and Gabe don’t do much other than gab on the phone or occasionally in person. The bottom line is that the three antagonists don’t feel as sinister (or carry the charisma) of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko.
Not even close.
Still, “Dumb Money” is an engaging historical recreation of the GameStop rollercoaster ride, especially for John and Jane Q. Public, who didn’t follow the story. The screenplay doesn’t venture far away from the alleged events. Broader questions aren’t answered (except at the very end, just before the end credits). It shines a spotlight on this chaotic stock-market journey as another example of our inequitable, messy world.
With all the noise, Dano is a near-perfect choice to play Keith, as an everyman with sincere convictions and a tangible sensitivity about his surroundings, in the markets and with his family. After a few cinematic minutes, this critic would follow Keith’s advice and regularly tune into his Roaring Kitty channel. The only crack in Dano’s armor is that Keith – in real life – was (about) a 4-minute miler on the track, which seems like a stretch for Paul, and to be fair, same here. I’m good for a 10-minute mile on an extremely good day. “Dumb Money” isn’t an extremely good movie, but it’s a worthwhile buy, especially if you have an interest in the topic and enjoy rooting for the underdog.
1/2 out of
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, based on Ben Mezrich’s book
Starring: Paul Dano, Shailene Woodley, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Seth Rogen, America Ferrera, Myha’la Herrold, Talia Ryder, Anthony Ramos, Clancy Brown, and Sebastian Stan
Runtime: 105 minutes
Image credits: Sony Pictures Releasing