When it comes to telling stories about an outrageous scandal, there's really no better person to turn to than director Craig Gillespie, who does it again with the movie Dumb Money, starring Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley and Pete Davidson.
Dumb Money tracks the circumstances that let to the Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets running up GameStop’s stock price, which eventually led to a David vs. Goliath battle between Wall Street and the public who looked to the online community to get guidance on how to invest their money wisely.
Dano plays Keith Gill ("Roaring Kitty") who sunk his money into the GameStop stock and would post about his experience, with others looking for advice on how to do the same. But when this starts to impact the institutional investors and hedge funds making money, the system rigged against the small players is exposed.
Gillespie very much lived the story of the GameStop scandal through his son, who was living with him when he was 24 and was active on r/WallStreetBets.
"He got in early, he stayed in and ... he sold right before the Robinhood freeze on the buy option, and then he got back in again after that," Gillespie told Yahoo Canada during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). "But then the fallout of that, and the frustration and the anger that was happening online, this real sense of the system being rigged against them, I got to live all of that with him for that three months."
While the director described the situation as "intense," he wasn't thinking about it as a film at all, at the time.
"As parents we were like, 'What are you doing?!'" Gillespie stressed.
Then the director was working on a project with writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, and they would "constantly talk about it." That film they were about to work on imploded, and then Blum and Angelo sent Gillespie a script for Dumb Money.
"It captured all of this that I was feeling, when it was happening with my son," Gillespie said. "I identified with so many of those characters and I just wanted to be able to capture that emotion, that intensity that we had in the house."
Paul Dano, Pete Davidson entertain as misfit brothers
Within the context of a particularly impressive cast, many stand out moments are between Dano and Davidson, playing brothers with very opposite personalities. This was also a matchup of actors that was really "exciting" for the director.
"Paul Dano completely elevated the material here, we actually did a lot of work together, in the six weeks leading up, with Keith's character, talking about the scenes, talking about what's going on when he lost $30 million, when he gets subpoenaed," Gillespie said.
"Paul was very specific about the dialogue and what he would say, and then Pete comes in, and you never know what he's going to say. So I wasn't sure how that would translate on the screen, but I was excited to see what would happen and how they would respond to each other, and spar together. Suddenly Paul's off script and it's a different kind of energy that Pete's not used to playing against. I found out after the fact that they loved working together."
One complexity with Dumb Money is that there are a lot of people involved. You have Keith Gill, and the individuals on the Wall Street side of the incident, but then the film shows you how everyday people were impacted by the GameStop stock saga. That includes America Ferrera's character Jenny, a nurse who decides to invest in GameStop stock, Anthony Ramos playing an employee at a GameStop store, and Talia Ryder and Myha'la Herrold, who play college students who invested in the GameStop stock.
As Gillespie describes it, balancing all those storylines was a "critical" component for the movie.
"It's not a very simple story in the sense that there are the winners and the losers, there's a very complicated grey area of who actually won in the situation," Gillespie said. "We really wanted to be true to that, because we knew we would be skewered by the Reddit community keeping it that simplistic."
"It was 8 million followers online, at the height, there were the initial 400,000 'degenerates', as they like to say, that got in very early, were all about the money. There were people who came in for the cause, to really give the middle finger to Wall Street, who want to be heard because of the enormous disparity of wealth that's happening in the country, and the frustration and the anger. ... It was a very complicated tapestry of people. So we tried to combine those groups into one character in each case, to represent different philosophies that were happening."
'It's a very deliberate point to be made that we feel the system is rigged'
Watching this movie in September 2023, the world will see this entertaining interpretation of the story told at a time where there are really critical concerns about the cost of living, housing affordability, rising grocery prices, and more financial issues.
As the Dumb Money story unfolds, it's really about people being taken advantage of, when all they really want is transparency regarding what they can do with their money and what's happening with their money when they invest.
"COVID started that conversation, I think, and this was one of the first mouthpieces to be heard," Gillespie said. "I think the reason it was happening is because of the disparity of wealth in the country, because of that frustration, because of these really dire life situations that were happening."
"I was really happy that we could be a part of that dialogue. We very liberally created a film that builds to that frustration and anger by the end, that makes you want to be an advocate for it and go out and keep fighting that fight."
The director is aware and even expecting many will feel "outraged" after watching Dumb Money.
"Ultimately, that's where I wanted to land," Gillespie said. "I want people to walk out and be like, 'This is f—ked up.' And get people angry about it."
"When those titles come up, it's a very deliberate point to be made that we feel the system is rigged. ... Very clearly there's something going on."
Dumb Money is now in theatres