The Spool / Festivals
SXSW 2022: Diamond Hands isn’t rich with insight, but flush in entertainment
The GameStonks debacle is competently, but not distinctively, chronicled in this documentary
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The GameStonks debacle is competently, but not distinctively, chronicled in the documentary Diamond Hands

(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 South by Southwest Festival)

The term “diamond hands” refers to the ability of a person to hold onto their shares of a certain stock for as long as possible. If you flake and sell your shares when things get rough, you have “paper hands.” This is the terminology that serves as a special code between the people at the heart of the documentary Diamond Hands: The Legend of Wall Street Bets. Though the terms may seem (and often are) ludicrous, the people interviewed here did manage to upend the American stock market. Maybe there’s something to this whole “diamond hands” business after all.

Diamond Hands is told primarily through one-on-one interviews with members of a Subreddit called Wall Street Bets. This is supposed to be a welcoming space for people who want to get into the world of stocks and shares but find it too daunting. This cyberspace domain took on whole new levels of popularity once the COVID-19 pandemic began and kept everyone indoors. All those people who suddenly had a lot of free time on their hands became obsessed with stocks, including shares of GameStop. 

That video game outlet became a fixation for these Redditors, an obsession that they clung to until the stock exploded. Suddenly, this became the centerpiece of an attack against the Wall Street establishment, who had previously mocked WallStreetBets and its GameStop fixation. These cyber-folks were getting juicy justification and riches beyond their wildest dreams…and that’s before things got so out of control that somebody uttered the phrase “I am not a cat” at a congressional hearing.

Part of the effectiveness of Diamond Hands comes from editing that juxtaposes disparate elements for comedic and thoughtful effect. A great instance of this comes in how speeches from the Reddit-based investors about sociopolitical inequality are placed against their memes worshipping The Wolf of Wall Street or Elon Musk. The suggestion here seems to be that their points are valid, and they’re cognizant of important sources of inequality. However, they’re lionizing harmful rich people and even doing Matthew McConaughey’s money chant from Wolf of Wall Street as a rallying cry.

Diamond Hands
Diamond Hands (SXSW)

Placing these disparate elements together suggests the tragic concept that these Wall Street Bet people are merely looking for solutions to real problems by deifying other structures and individuals that value wealth over people. Similarly, one white male interviewee’s distraught comment over how restrictions on GameStop stock are “un-American” is placed right next to another anecdote from Alisha B. Woods, who remarks that this same development is very much in keeping with the status quo of America. 

Just through the strategic placement of these two segments, Diamond Hands is showing the varied perspectives in this community, as well as how vastly different life experiences inform responses to sudden systemic challenges. The emphasis on nuance between the various interview subjects is partly why this documentary proves so entertaining. Rather than just the same mindset or background regurgitated ad nauseum, viewers get a sense of the wide array of individuals that Wall Street Bets managed to attract.

The most introspective parts of Diamond Hands come about in the final few minutes, though. This is where several interview subjects express awareness over how an excess of money can’t solve all your problems, while being disillusioned with the idea of things getting better in the future. An extended anecdote from Chris Garcia on how overnight successes don’t endure in the long term proves especially impactful. After so many stories that make this subreddit sound like Heaven on Earth, it’s welcome to hear a more nuanced portrait of the experience of suddenly scoring so much extra cash. 

Part of the effectiveness of Diamond Hands comes from editing that juxtaposes disparate elements for comedic and thoughtful effect.

This more introspective attitude is an aberration rather than the norm here, though. Diamond Hands is largely concerned with chronicling, through awestruck anecdotes, how a bunch of commoners stormed the Wall Street castle. This means the documentary isn’t especially unique in style with its linear narrative and straightforward interviews. However, it is often appropriately propulsive with its barrage of unpredictable developments. A lively score by composer Matthew Joynt is also instrumental in keeping the energy up.

Further helping to maintain Diamond Hand’s entertaining vibes is amusing presentations of certain real-world developments. One investor, for instance, has an important manifesto he wrote about GameStop stock performed with maximum ham by his actor brother. What could’ve been tepid exposition comes alive as enjoyably over-the-top slam poetry, complete with unique dramatically colored lighting to accentuate the mood. 

This whole GameStonks episode was larger than life, right down to one of the principal players concealing his identity here by wearing a medieval helmet (complete with glasses worn on the outside). It’s nice, then, that Diamond Hands has a good sense to embrace flourishes with similarly heightened sensibility. 

Admittedly, by the time the credits begin to roll, it’s hard to shake the feeling that these various stylized moments didn’t add up to a movie that had an extraordinary amount to say on the real-world events it’s spun off from. Instead, it boils down to Redditors sharing amusing campfire stories about being accidentally caught up in economic history. It’s not substantive, but Diamond Hands is a polished version of that form.