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Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets

MOVIE REVIEW
Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets (2022)

The documentary “Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets” recounts how, for one brief moment, unsophisticated investors posting on Reddit beat Wall Street at its own game only to find out that game is indeed rigged in Wall Street’s favor. The entire saga prompted House Financial Services Committee hearings in Washington.

Redditors of r/WallStreetBets, a stock trade picks subreddit presently 11.9 million strong, banded together to short squeeze GameStop stock in January 2021 and caused shares of the near-bankrupt video-game retailer to shoot up 1700 percent, turning middle-class people into millionaires overnight while hedge funds that bet against it lost billions.

Stock markets around the world crashed in February 2020 amid the pandemic. That April, the U.S. government poured billions of stimulus dollars into the economy. The Robinhood app, launched in 2015, provided easy entry for people with little money to invest. Many who sat at home with nothing to do during the lockdown turned to r/WallStreetBets for guidance on what to do with their unexpected funds. Alvan Chow, known as u/JeffAmazon on Reddit, analyzed data to spot bubbles for asymmetric betting – making a large return on a small capital investment. He identified the potential of GameStop in September 2020, which hedge funds apparently kept shorting (attempting to profit from selling before acquiring) out of greed, and shared it on r/WallStreetBets the following month. His original post is dramatically performed in the film by his actor brother, an example of the filmmakers’ unorthodox approach.

These redditors share the frustration that today’s reality simply does not afford them the same life that baby boomers have enjoyed, even if they follow the conventional wisdom of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working hard. GameStop stock presented an opportunity to break Wall Street, upend the status quo, level the playing field, and escape the rat race.

The week of the squeeze, some made a year’s salary in a month. Meanwhile, Melvin Capital lost $6.8 billion. Robinhood suddenly halted purchases of heavily shorted stocks. Per Alisha B. Woods, known as u/Strange_Alternative4, this proved the call to invest in the free market was a lie (not quoted verbatim as she deployed an expletive). Shares of GameStop began to plummet, yet some redditors held on – using the term “diamond hands” characterizes this chutzpah – to stick it to the man.

Premiering at the SXSW Film Festival in March, “Diamond Hands” is the latest of several documentaries mining this fascinating cautionary tale. “Gaming Wall Street,” a two-part HBO Max series launched in March, and “GameStopped,” an ABC News special that began streaming on Hulu in March, follow the more traditional investigative documentary structure. “GameStop: Rise of the Players,” released in theaters in January, tries to emulate the overstimulating internet experience. “Diamond Hands” takes the latter approach, with TikTok-esque split screens and rapid-fire montages that at times feel like sensory assault.

Filmmakers Zack Canepari and Drea Cooper mostly forgo conventional experts (though Andrew Left, founder and executive editor of Citron Research, does get to present his side while dressed in casual attire), and instead let redditors narrate these events from their own vantage points. Appropriately, the film feels like the Reddit user experience, albeit without the anonymity. For the uninitiated, it’s an entirely foreign culture complete with its own language. It can be confusing and intimidating before one gets acclimated, especially since the film doesn’t prep viewers with a glossary of financial terminology such as shorting and internet slang like YOLO. Though for the first time, we get to put faces to Reddit user names.

“Diamond Hands” borders on reality TV, with the aforementioned dramatic performance of a post and also an adaptation of “A Sir_Jack_a_Lot Christmas Carol,” a post by u/Sir_Jack_a_Lot about turning $35,000 into $1.75 million. Some of the artistic licenses taken make you wonder about these clearly scripted and staged segments having overstepped the bounds of nonfiction filmmaking. One supposes this is a close reflection of the mood and atmosphere of r/WallStreetBets, but the razzle dazzle does at times detract from a documentary’s role of edifying the viewers.

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