Business

‘Dumb Money’ Lampoons Wall Street Titans With a Knowing Eye

“Dumb Money” is the kind of midbudget, formula-busting, thinking-person’s movie that isn’t supposed to get made anymore, much less receive a wide, studio-backed release in theaters.

It tells the bizarre true story of small investors — a nurse, college students, a YouTube personality known as Roaring Kitty — who created a Wall Street frenzy over the troubled video game retailer GameStop during the pandemic. Determined to teach professional investors a lesson, and hopefully get rich in the process, they pushed GameStop shares to a stratospheric level in early 2021, for a time putting the squeeze on sophisticated hedge funds that had bet that GameStop shares would fall.

The $30 million film, directed by Craig Gillespie (“Cruella”), contains withering depictions of real-life Wall Street figures like Kenneth C. Griffin, the Citadel titan; Steven A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager and New York Mets owner; and Gabe Plotkin, whose hedge fund lost billions in the squeeze. In one colorful scene, Mr. Cohen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, sits in a mansion snarfing a club sandwich and snorting with laughter on the phone with Mr. Plotkin, played by Seth Rogen.

“I honestly can’t tell if that’s you or Romeo,” Mr. Plotkin says, referring to Mr. Cohen’s pet pig. The camera cuts to the animal. Mr. Cohen gleefully tosses deli meat on the carpet for it to eat.

In the film, Nick Offerman, left, caricatures the Citadel kingpin Kenneth C. Griffin and Seth Rogen sends up Gabe Plotkin, whose hedge fund lost billions.Credit…Sony Pictures

In a twist that makes “Dumb Money” even more unusual, the film was financed and produced by Teddy Schwarzman, whose father, Stephen A. Schwarzman, is also a Wall Street superpower and the chief executive of Blackstone, the private equity behemoth that has more than $1 trillion under management. Without Teddy Schwarzman’s last-minute investment — he stepped in with financing after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer balked — “Dumb Money” would not exist, according to Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum, former Wall Street Journal reporters who wrote the screenplay and served as executive producers.

“When no one else believed in this film, Teddy came in pretty heroically,” Ms. Blum said.

The “Dumb Money” poster depicts stacks of cash styled to look like an obscene hand gesture, along with the words “Dear Wall Street.” What does Mr. Schwarzman’s father think about this? Moreover, what do the businessmen caricatured in the film think?

“I’m very, very curious as to what they’ll say,” said Thomas E. Rothman, chairman of Sony’s motion picture group, which will premiere the R-rated “Dumb Money” on Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I know the movie was meticulously researched.” (Translation: Sony’s lawyers are ready.)

Stephen Schwarzman declined to comment. So did Mr. Griffin and Mr. Cohen. Mr. Plotkin did not respond to queries.

Teddy Schwarzman’s father is the chief executive of the private equity giant Blackstone.Credit…Gregor Fischer/Picture Alliance, via Getty Images

In 2011, Teddy Schwarzman, 44, founded a film company that has since delivered art house hits like “The Imitation Game,” which collected $234 million worldwide in 2014 and was nominated for eight Oscars. (The movie won for Graham Moore’s screenplay.) In an interview, Mr. Schwarzman insisted he had no particular desire to make Wall Street look bad.

“It’s never about my thoughts and my feelings,” Mr. Schwarzman said of the films he made. “It’s about the material: What is this saying and how effective is it in what it’s trying to do? Is this a piece of content that can stand out in the genre that it’s in and do something novel and do something special?”

“‘Dumb Money’ is a comedic and thrilling examination of what’s going on in our Main Street versus Wall Street world,” he added.

Asked if his father or any other Wall Street figure had reached out to him to complain about “Dumb Money,” directly or indirectly, Mr. Schwarzman shook his head no.

Sony, which bought distribution rights to “Dumb Money” from Mr. Schwarzman, plans a slow theatrical rollout for the film starting next Friday. Sony expects “Dumb Money” to play on at least 2,500 screens in the United States and Canada by Sept. 29. A release of that size typically requires a marketing campaign costing more than $20 million. (Sony declined to say how much it will spend.)

It’s a big gamble. “

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