‘Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets’ Review: A Frenetic Doc About Rise and Fall of GameStop Stock

SXSW: Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper's documentary lands at the intersection of funny, entertaining, and just plain frustrating.
diamond hands movie
“Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets"

In directing duo Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper’s MSNBC-produced documentary, “Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets,” a young millionaire investor with a medieval helmet on his head (self-named “Sir Jackalot”) frankly described the raise of GameStop stock in the early days of 2021 as “a group of idiots who got fed up with the world,” and decided to do something about it. In just 82 minutes, Canepari and Cooper attempt to explain how that seemingly insane bet played out.

At its heart, “Diamond Hands” is a COVID documentary. Unlike others of its ilk, however, Canepari and Cooper approach the debilitating virus not from the vantage point of hospital beds or Zoom windows, but through the corners of the internet. A cadre of everyday subjects are introduced by their occupation and handles: Matt Kelly (u/deepc55) was a diver forced into medical retirement; Chris Garcia (u/fotopapi) took over a small school and sports photography business before, well, school and sports were canceled; Alisha B Woods (u/strange_alternative4) was a paycheck-to-paycheck waitress. Coupling their ordinariness with their Reddit handles suggests a doubleness, the kind of alter egos needed to enact anarchy, as they would unwittingly do.

At the outset of the pandemic, of course, gig workers and small business owners became flush with cash from the multiple rounds of stimulus checks sent by the government. Around the same time, a stock-centric app named RobinHood — no commissions, the ability to trade stock options with only $200 in your pocket, an idiot-proof user interface — took the headaches and financial barriers away from investing, allowing smaller fish into the stock market game. The combination of the app, Reddit boards (specifically WallStreetBets), and YouTube channels dedicated to investing provided the potent ingredients needed for financial upheaval.

The language in “Diamond Hands” relies on a vital, albeit difficult to construe lexicon of terms: “Rockets,” “short selling,” “short squeeze,” “paper hands,” “diamond hands.” They aren’t poker strategies, but they could easily fill that purpose. Their definitions arrive on an overwhelming wave of blasting EDM beats, GIFs, memes, and endless pop culture references, likely leaving many viewers bewildered. By relying on the overwrought visual language of the internet, given in rapid, clipped edits, Canepari and Cooper never make the mechanics of investing as easy as using an app like, say, RobinHood, which excelled at translating the real-world investment actions into digestible video game-inspired betting strategies.

Instead, the documentary finds more fertile ground when it comes to the psychological toll of contending with the decay of the American myth — AKA finding success by going to college and getting a “good” job — amid an end-stage-capitalist world. Few of the subjects, mostly millennials, turned toward investing with revolutionary aims, they were just trying to stay afloat. “Diamond Hands” ingeniously zeroes in on how those aims changed when a few investors, like Youtuber keithgill and Alvan Chow (JeffAmazon), identified GameStop, carrying a 140 percent short interest ratio, as a potential high-risk bubble for outthinking the short sellers for major gains.

What follows is almost a wacky and zany thriller in which these neophyte investors — often throwing down $30k or more in capital — recall how they transitioned from obsessive compulsive addicts to nihilist anarchists hellbent on giving an f-you to the system. Faded vertical streams of Reddit comments enlivens the massiveness of this online community. Hilarious sight gags, such as skydivers with diamond-hand emojis or videos of apes beating their chests, imbues the film with a fatalistic charm. Likewise, Canepari and Cooper turn the usual drab readings of an earnings report into a high-stress, high-drama event.

For all of its visual flair and us-against-the-world populism, “Diamond Hands,” unfortunately, doesn’t spend enough time interrogating larger themes. The toxic cult of personality surrounding Elon Musk, for instance, arrives and then leaves just as briefly. The film deals with the demystification of bootstrapping yet never manages to fully explicate the generations worth of inequities faced by people of color, especially Black folks, within the financial sectors (though, admittedly, it might lead to a different film).

Even so, Canepari and Cooper do land the documentary at the intersection funny, entertaining, and just plain frustrating. When these savvy, risk-taking small investors make themselves millionaires overnight, and the systematic boogiemen arrive to manipulate the market, you can’t help but feel anger and indignation. It reaffirms the ways the bootstrapping narrative can never be wholly possible in a broken capitalist environment. It connects the RobinHood boom with the rise of cryptocurrency. And it makes one say: it’s time to burn it all down.

Grade: B-

“Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets” premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and will air on MSNBC on Sunday, April 10.

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