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Craig Gillespie's 'Dumb Money' tells the story of the GameStop short squeeze

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And now a David and Goliath story torn from the internet. In 2021, amateur stock investors made a lot of money and plunged hedge funds into disarray in what was known as the GameStop short squeeze. Critic Bob Mondello says he did not follow the story at the time but that the new movie comedy "Dumb Money" makes it crystal clear and more fun than you might think possible.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We meet Roaring Kitty A bit after we meet Keith Gill, though technically they're the same person. Gill's a 30-something married guy with a baby who works for a life insurance company. But in his basement as Roaring Kitty, he dons a cat T-shirt and a red headband to talk to his YouTube and Reddit followers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

PAUL DANO: (As Keith Gill) Yo. What up, everybody? Roaring Kitty here. I'm going to pick a stock and talk about why I think it's interesting. And that stock is GameStop.

MYHA'LA HERROLD: (As Riri) I love this guy.

MONDELLO: That is not an uncommon reaction. Most of Roaring Kitty's followers love him, at least partly because he's making them a lot of money.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

AMERICA FERRERA: (As Jennifer Campbell) If he's in, I'm in.

HERROLD: (As Riri) If he's in, I'm in.

FERRERA: (As Jennifer Campbell) Seventy thousand people have watched this video.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Roaring Kitty, I love you.

MONDELLO: He took his entire life savings - $53,000 - and put it into GameStop, a chain of brick-and-mortar stores catering to gamers. And in his video stream, he's tracking how his purchase is doing in real time. There are digital tables and graphs on the wall behind him. And as other folks follow his lead, the stock's been going up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) GameStop - those shares not stopping.

MONDELLO: This initially amuses the hedge fund guys who have been betting against GameStop - that is, selling short.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

VINCENT D'ONOFRIO: (As Steve Cohen) I think they think it's a good investment - dumb money, man.

SETH ROGEN: (As Gabe Plotkin) Happy to take it.

MONDELLO: By betting against GameStop, the hedge funds are essentially giving it a push off a financial cliff, but if it doesn't fail, they're in trouble. And judging from news reports, they're in trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I will tell you I've never seen anything like it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) It is the craziest I think I've ever seen.

MONDELLO: Director Craig Gillespie is good at keeping the pace snappy while juggling a lot of narrative streams at once. There's Paul Dano's appealingly geeky Keith Gill and Shailene Woodley as his quietly astonished wife...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

SHAILENE WOODLEY: (As Caroline Gill) How much did we make today?

DANO: (As Keith Gill) Five million.

WOODLEY: (As Caroline Gill) And yesterday?

DANO: (As Keith Gill) Four million.

WOODLEY: (As Caroline Gill) Babe.

DANO: (As Keith Gill) Yeah.

WOODLEY: (As Caroline Gill) We're, like, really rich.

MONDELLO: ...Also a hilariously profane Pete Davidson as Gill's slacker brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

PETE DAVIDSON: (As Kevin Gill) So what are you going to do - get a Ferrari? What the [expletive]?

DANO: (As Keith Gill) Oh, language. The baby's here.

MONDELLO: We meet a cross-section of Gill's followers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

ANTHONY RAMOS: (As Marcos) When they hit, I'm going to buy you a mansion.

DANO: (As Keith Gill) Let's drink to that.

MONDELLO: And we also watch the hedge fund guys as they panic, with Seth Rogen doing the lion's share of the panicking.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUMB MONEY")

OLIVIA THIRLBY: (As Yaara Bank-Plotkin) How much did we lose today?

ROGEN: (As Gabe Plotkin) A billion.

THIRLBY: (As Yaara Bank-Plotkin) And yesterday?

ROGEN: (As Gabe Plotkin) A billion. Do you have a minute?

MONDELLO: Now, it may occur to you at some point that what all these folks are doing is essentially gambling - dumb and dumber money - right? - a lot of small betters going all in, hoping to bring down what amounts to the Wall Street casino. It's nice that for a while, little guys were able to outdistance billionaires, but as entertaining as "Dumb Money" is, it's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the American dream. In a few sentences on screen at the very end, the filmmakers make a pitch for the notion that the success of all that dumb money has changed Wall Street practices for good - a lovely thought. And if you believe it, have I got a stock for you. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND")

TONY K: (Singing) I prefer to stay isolated me like I'm an island. Nah, I can't be around where I don't like the climate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.