Directed by: Tobias Deml
Premise: A documentary about the GameStop meme stock rally. In 2021 retail investors began buying shares of the videogame store GameStop, deliberately driving up the share price at the cost of Wall Street hedge funds.
What Works: The rules, terminology, and processes around the stock market and Wall Street are deliberately opaque. The documentary Gaming Wall St explains the ins and outs of the 2021 GameStop short squeeze and tells a compelling story that illuminates how our financial markets work and the corruption and conflicts of interest that are seemingly baked into them. As explained in the documentary, Wall Street hedge funds were shorting the stock of videogame retailer GameStop, meaning that they made money when the stock price went down. A group of retail investors—average citizens using the Robinhood trading app—started buying the stock and driving up the price, costing Wall Street hedge funds millions of dollars. The rally came to an end when Robinhood stopped allowing users to buy the GameStop stock, forcing the price back down. The filmmakers of Gaming Wall St explain all of this in an accessible way. The film intercuts testimony from financial experts with stories of Robinhood users who participated in the short squeeze. The documentary goes beyond the immediate story and uses this event to explore the larger realities of the economy. The roots of the 2021 short squeeze are traced back to the 2008 financial crash in which everyday Americans lost jobs, homes, and wealth. This was a way for those people to enact revenge on a financial system that hurt them. But Gaming Wall St goes further, especially in its second half, explaining how the GameStop rally exposed corruption and conflicts of interest, in particular the phenomenon of so called “naked shorting” in which banks sell stocks they don’t actually own. Most alarmingly, Gaming Wall St claims that the 2021 short squeeze revealed weaknesses in the stock market and banking system that could have caused a domino effect that might have brought down the global economy.
What Doesn’t: Investment and Wall Street corruption are serious topics with real world consequences but Gaming Wall St undercuts its credibility with TRON-like visuals. The narration is delivered by actor Kieran Culkin. Channeling the character he plays on the HBO series Succession, Culkin’s narration is irreverent and occasionally coarse. It fits the subject matter but Culkin’s narration is also a little too performative in a way that is distracting. Gaming Wall St is presented on HBO Max in two one-hour episodes. Although there is a logical split between the two halves there’s really no reason that this couldn’t have been presented as a single feature film. The end of the first episode teases what’s explored in the second half and the two parts could have easily been consolidated.
DVD extras: On HBO Max.
Bottom Line: Gaming Wall St is enlightening and enraging viewing. Although it’s a little too glib for its own good, the documentary tells a complicated story in an accessible way and raises important questions about Wall Street and our financial system.
Episode: #903 (May 29, 2022)