After helming a series of based-on-a-true-story projects including “Million Dollar Arm,” “The Finest Hours,” “I, Tonya” and “Pam & Tommy,” Craig Gillespie was the natural candidate to direct “Dumb Money,” Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum’s chronicle of the January 2021 GameStop stock short squeeze and its reverberations throughout Wall Street. But Gillespie tells Variety it wasn’t his developing pedigree in this eclectic subgenre but an experience closer to home that prompted him to take on the story of Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty, and the scrappy bunch of investors who rattled two hedge funds and changed investment culture forever.
“I was living it with my son, who was going through COVID with us, and he was on [the subreddit] r/WallStreetBets from early on,” Gillespie reveals. “He went through this whole drama — the highs, the lows, everything about it — so I was emotionally connected to it.”
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In particular, Gillespie says that “Dumb Money” captures one part of a larger post-COVID moment where Americans’ collective attention became focused on systemic wealth, social and cultural inequalities. “This was one of the first ways that as a community, we found [an opportunity] to voice our frustration, and it was at The Man,” he says. Blum and Angelo add that seizing on this story allowed them to explore some existential, not-easily answered questions about an economy and culture shaped by capitalism.
“We realized that this movie is really about who decides value in a society,” says Blum. “Is it the richest people, or is it the customers who shop somewhere? And what is the value of a store like GameStop, what is the value of a human life, and who has the say over that?” Adds Angelo, “this feels like a particularly chaotic, insane time. We try our best to tell stories that gives some kind of larger meaning to what we’re all going through.”
The film follows a cross-section of individuals who participated in or were impacted by the short squeeze, from Reddit investors following Roaring Kitty’s lead to the hedge fund managers and financial technology entrepreneurs scrambling to react as it unfolded. Featuring Paul Dano as the basement-dwelling day trader, Gillespie anchored the tone of his fact-based story around the twin poles of Gill’s unconventional expertise and his comical appearance. “You start out with a guy in a cat T-shirt with a headband on who becomes the poster child for 8 million followers,” he says. “There was a real opportunity to strike a balance between the humor and the drama.”
“It was very important to us as former journalists to get the story to show both sides of it,” says Blum of their cast of characters, from industry experts to investment neophytes, whose diversity further emphasized the effect of the event. “I think you could call Keith Gill a reluctant leader, at best, in this moment,” continues Angelo. “But we see this story as a kind of spark — and the thing about a spark is it can start a conflagration.”
Although an end title card indicates that no regulatory repercussions were implemented in the wake of the GameStop short squeeze, all of the filmmakers say they hope “Dumb Money” motivates viewers to invest more in financial institutions — attention if not money. “We hope that people will walk out of the theater feeling inspired at the power of what they can do, rather than demoralized by what our elected officials have, so far, failed to,” says Angelo.
“You go on this journey, you go on this ride, you understand with this moment in time, but I want there to be this sense of outrage and frustration that hopefully activates something, a conversation at least,” says Gillespie. “Hopefully, it’s a call to action.”
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