Craig Gillespie’s film of The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, Dumb Money (2023), takes the familiar formal structure of his earlier film I, Tonya (2017), which itself is derived from the Martin Scorsese films Goodfellas (1990) and The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013), and opens it up to accommodate a large ensemble of parallel, isolated narratives where each is focused on one character. Dumb Money is so intentionally rapidly paced that it is meant to intentionally recall the social media culture that spearheaded what ultimately resulted in the demise of Melvin Capital.
But by taking aesthetic cues from YouTube, reddit, and other social media platforms Gillespie has effectively cut character from his film. Not one person who appears in Dumb Money is afforded any substantial dimension or significant nuance. Dumb Money trades entirely in archetypes established in films like The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Social Network (2010), betting instead on the politics of the dramatized event depicted in the film to carry the drama. Gillespie’s film counts on the fact that almost the entire audience wants to see the hedge funds crash and burn while the American everyman soars to economic success.
For the most part, Dumb Money is a successful gamble in this respect. We all want to see the notorious 1% fail miserably. But when Dumb Money is over what lingers isn’t any of the images in the film or the emotions of the characters. What remains is little more than a touch of outrage and a slight boost of confidence or hope. These sensations aren’t the types of feelings so often associated with the films of Frank Capra which are moored to the stories and lives of specific characters. The resulting feeling of watching Dumb Money is both vague and allusive; existing in a kind of ether separate almost from the film itself.
Without a compelling central narrative, or even the space for such a narrative to exist, Dumb Money affects its viewer like a YouTube video. And like the majority of such videos, Dumb Money is a disposable entertainment masquerading as something important like art or journalism. The reality is that Dumb Money is little more than a well crafted video rendering of something like a TED Talk focused on analyzing the events that inspired the film.