Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Antisocial Network: DUMB MONEY

Dumb Money is a movie based on the true story of what can’t be any more than the second most important American event of January 2021. It can’t reference the actual most important event because recognizing the conspiratorial mob mentality of the January 6th capitol riots would be too much complexity for a surface-level story of the other internet-abetted swarm of those days. Remember the amateur stock traders who, emboldened by the ease of an app, swooped in and inflated the stock of troubled video game store GameStop? They held on long enough for the hedge funds betting against the company to post massive losses and lean on the app to freeze trading until they could bail each other out. The movie’s best moment comes in its first needle-drop. These so-obvious-they-circle-back-around-to-surprising song choices are becoming something of a specialty for director Craig Gillespie, after his enjoyable I, Tonya and Cruella played with pop soundtracks to good effect. In this case, it’s a setting-appropriate blasting of the Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s catchy, exuberantly profane “WAP.” As Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman’s fat cat characters stare in shock at their impending potential financial doom we hear the now-iconic opening sample: “There’s some whores in this house. There’s some whores in this house. There’s some whores in this house.” That juxtaposition could’ve set the stage for a vivid bit of agitprop with a point of view about stock market games and who’s whoring whom. But the movie is a slow deflation from there.

The rest is a dutiful docudrama retelling of the moment—a basement vlogger (Paul Dano) egging on day traders who push an under-valued stock sky high, gambling on a big payday if they can break the system. The story scatters across an ensemble of participants, from cash-strapped traders (America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos) to those Wall Street types and the tech bros (Sebastian Stan) playing both sides. This lets the movie go wide without getting deep. There’s a certain discount Social Network sheen to its wan digital aesthetic. (There’s the Ben Mezrich source material, too.) And there’s some clomping inevitability that creeps in around any movie that more about recreating a Wikipedia page than commenting on its moment in any meaningful way. That means the modern period picture leans on popular songs, but also the memes and the masks. As head-spinning as it is to see 2021 already feeling like a distinct historical moment despite still living in its immediate implications, it’s even weirder to leave feeling like you’ve seen little more than a reenactment of stuff you literally just finished reading about in the news 18 months ago. Gillespie places a lot of fine actors in decent scenes, but the movie’s point of view is little more than a shrugging, well, wasn’t that a thing? Its final title cards claim something big changed here, but the preceding movie doesn't exactly make that case.

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