Dumb Money is a new comedy-drama film that looks back on one of the most unusual internet movements from the COVID-ridden times of 2020. A financial analyst by the name of Keith Gill had managed to influence thousands of strangers on the internet to buy stocks of GameStop, a company that was nearing bankruptcy and whose stocks were being short-sold by investment corporations. The story in the film is undoubtedly watered down and made to feel like a triumphant assault of the working class against the rich capitalists, which was indeed the sentiment of the people on the internet at the time. Dumb Money is very fun to watch because of its style, and it presents the GameStop short squeeze incident as realistically as any film probably could have.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
The term “dumb money” is used by corporate investors and established Wall Street firms to mockingly refer to individual investors who, according to them, have little clue about where they are putting their money. The film Dumb Money presents an event from 2020, when this very opinion was subverted, and the so-called dumb ones had overturned the corporation’s fortune. The film begins with scenes of this very heightened situation, where founders and investors in hedge fund company Melvin Capital are in utter shock as they face great financial losses.
The people at Melvin Capital, starting with their founder, Gabe Plotkin, had recently been short-selling the stocks of GameStop, a physical store chain across the USA, selling video games and products related to gaming. The act of short selling involves borrowing shares of a company at a higher price and selling them off at the same price, with the prediction that the share prices will fall, and so the trader will have to pay much less than what they had sold it for when buying back the shares from the lender. Short selling, therefore, often drives businesses to bankruptcy, as it is technically a forceful method of targeting a company and making its share prices drop through incessant selling.
In 2020, amidst the COVID pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, GameStop was understandably suffering huge losses in its business. The company had also been going through rough times in general, owing to the changing habits of gamers, who now prefer buying and downloading digital versions of video games. It was perhaps no wonder that the share prices of the business were falling, but the attention of Melvin Capital and the short sale of its shares started to hurt the company even more. It was at this point that an ordinary man named Keith Gill decided to step in and do his part. A financial analyst by profession, Keith was also very active on both YouTube and Reddit, through which he started to inform people about this short-selling situation. Having had a strong emotional connection with GameStop ever since his childhood, Keith wanted to save the business from bankruptcy. After investing all his money into buying shares of the company, Keith Gill asked everyone on the internet to do the same.
How did Keith manage to stop Melvin Capital?
Keith Gill’s story in Dumb Money begins with an informal meeting with his good friend Briggsy, who happens to be a Wall Street investor. It is to this friend that Keith first tells about his investment in GameStop, which seems like a decision based on emotions rather than any tough financial predictions. The timing of Keith’s risk and story also seems important in this regard, as it all took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were more vocal against big establishments and institutions. Along with the many health scares, some were indeed more open to taking risks that had the potential to yield big rewards. The GameStop short squeeze incident seems to have been a result of both of these trends, as the beginning of the chain reaction takes place in an equally informal manner. When Keith tells Briggsy about his investment, the waitress at the place overhears and decides to invest in the company, too.
According to her, if a common man like Keith was putting money into a company like GameStop despite the Wall Street investor telling him not to, then he must be knowing something more than the corporate worker. While this interaction is most probably fictional, it does somewhat resemble the spirit of the online movement, for the people who participated in the short squeeze did not really have any monetary expectations from the investment. They simply put in their money to support the comparatively small business and to wage a financial war on the established corporations that were trying to destroy the company. After putting in his money to buy GameStop shares, Keith posted videos about it on his YouTube channel and also wrote about it on the Reddit forum named WallStreetBets. In fact, this very Reddit forum was, and still is, about people wanting to take on big investment firms from Wall Street and somehow disrupt their corrupt intentions.
Dumb Money presents a set of fictional characters who are shown to take part in the movement after finding out about Keith’s online activities. First is a nurse by the name of Jenny, who struggles financially as a single mother but is very interested in buying the stocks to mess with the corporations. When a colleague friend of hers talks about how it is more sensible to trust bankers and advisors when it comes to investments, Jenny is very quick to remind them that such established individuals are also extremely manipulative and, therefore, are part of the same capitalist crowd that she wants to avoid. The woman essentially puts her faith in Keith and also in the failing GameStop business, hoping to help revive the company and teach the corporation a lesson. Once the price starts to rise, Jenny keeps investing more and more, constantly buying shares to help the company and also better her finances.
The second individual putting faith in Keith’s call for action is Marcus, an employee at one of GameStop’s many retail stores. Despite being frustrated by the reduced payments and the presence of his boss, who is least bothered about the company’s financial condition, Marcus holds on and keeps buying more shares. The son of an immigrant couple, the young man intends to pay off his parents’ debts and buy them a house, and he intends to use his earnings from the GameStop shares to fulfill this dream of his. Although Marcus has a more immediate need for the money, he still decides to hold on to the shares and help the company some more before thinking about his personal gains.
Riri and Harmony are two young women who are college students, and both are heavily in debt. After watching Keith’s YouTube videos, the two decide to buy GameStop shares in whatever quantity they can afford, and they, too, have vengeful hatred against the corporate firms. Harmony, who hails from a small American town, has directly faced the horrible effects of the greedy corporations. Her father used to work at a store chain named Shopko, where the man had spent his entire career, rising from a mere worker to the general manager. However, the company was then bought over by a corporate firm, which took away all the funds from it, leaving it bankrupt, and then left, not caring about the livelihoods of the workers. Therefore, helping GameStop survive the short sale would bring a very personal joy for Harmony, and her girlfriend Riri also supports her and joins in.
Within some time, Keith and the other individual investors manage to carry out a short squeeze, which is the term used to refer to a situation when the stock prices of a company that has been affected by short selling manage to rise instead of falling as predicted by the short sellers. Such a situation is possible when investors buy stock in the company and hold on to the shares even though the prices keep increasing. Keith and the individual investors held on to their stocks in this very manner, despite them being able to earn great profits if they sold off the shares. This obviously led to huge financial losses for firms like Melvin Capital and Citadel that had carried out the short sale against GameStop, as they now had to pay back more money to the lenders than they had sold the stocks for. In a sense, the common people had indeed managed to win a battle against the established big corporations.
What major setback does Keith’s movement face?
Most of the trading that people like Keith had done during the GameStop short squeeze had been carried out on a trading app called Robinhood, which allowed users to trade without taking any direct fees from the trades. The founders of this app, Vlad Tenev, and Baiju Bhatt, had intentionally named their app in such a manner to suggest that they were on the side of the common masses, the poor people, and intended to steal away from the evil rich population. The Robinhood app itself enjoyed great praise and a massive rise in popularity because of the GameStop movement, but ultimately, when pressure was built on them by the corporates, Vlad Tenev gave way and took away support from the masses that he supposedly wanted to help through his app.
The option to buy more GameStop trades was temporarily removed from the Robinhood app when Melvin and Citadel management told Tenev to do so. This meant that people could not buy any more GameStop shares, stalling the meteoric rise in the share prices. The frozen buy button also caused some panic among investors, and many sold off the shares to avoid losses due to any potential crash. This was also part of the corporation’s plan, as the sell button was still functional throughout this entire time. Since this sort of restricted access is completely illegal, Robinhood once again enabled the buy button after some time, and it was expected that this intentional glitch would stop the short squeeze movement. However, the corporations had once again underestimated the masses, and as soon as the Robinhood app was back online, people started to buy stocks of GameStop, making the share prices rise once again.
What ultimately happened to Keith and GameStop?
Following the illegal act carried out by Robinhood, the authorities started to investigate the matter, and soon, a congressional hearing was called for. Keith Gill was also asked to attend this hearing remotely via video call, along with the CEOs of Melvin Capital and Citadel, as well as Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev. No concrete evidence was found to claim that the trading platform had received benefits from the corporations to disable the option to buy the stocks. The whole matter did not directly affect the corporations, as was wished for by the individual investors, but it surely had some indirect repercussions. Around six months after the hearing, text messages between Robinhood and Citadel were indeed found, suggesting that the two had worked together to stop the short squeeze.
Robinhood soon became a public company in 2021, opening up its shares to investors in the market. However, its reputation had been hampered so much that it failed to make any impact whatsoever and actually had a horrible debut in the market for a company of its size. The owners suffered greatly because of this and have currently lost a lot of money because of their company. Melvin Capital CEO Gabe Plotkin suffered equally large losses and wound up his hedge fund company. GameStop, on the other hand, continues to exist, though it is still a loss-making company due to the waning relevance of physical stores.
Meanwhile, many of the individual investors sold either some or all of their GameStop stocks to earn considerable amounts of profit. Dumb Money shows Marcus, Riri, and Harmony having sold off their shares to achieve their personal dreams and also to get rid of debt. Jenny refused to sell the stocks and still holds on to them, perhaps hoping for larger profits. The central figure in this entire matter, Keith Gill, had reportedly still held on to the shares before completely disappearing from the internet. Keith’s last appearance on the internet came through a YouTube video on his channel in April 2021. Some believe that the man has now sold off his shares and retired with the millions he has made from them. Dumb Money‘s ending shows Keith contemplating whether he should sell off the stocks, but then ultimately decides to invest more and buy more stocks. Jubilant that he has achieved what he had intended for all this time, the man celebrates with his younger brother, Kevin.