Saturday, February 24, 2018

Film Review: Game Night

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Sometimes you just need to have a fun, silly movie to escape into for a few hours.

And that is what I found with Game Night.

The movie isn't the most earth-shattering or innovative.  But playing within the genre, the film was wonderfully diverting in its absurdity.

The story revolves around married couple Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a couple that is super competitive with each other and with other couples.  They get much enjoyment from their regular game nights with fellow couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) along with man-child Ryan (Billy Magnussen.  Max and Annie quite studiously avoid their neighbor, the uber-creepy, poodle-cuddling police officer Gary (Jesse Plemons).  Things take a turn when Max's more successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) invites all of them and Ryan's date Sarah (Sharon Horgan) to a game night at his posh house.  He tells them that the game involves one of them being kidnapped and they will have to follow a series of clues to win the game.  But when two seemingly real-life thugs kidnap Brooks in front of them, the rest of the group thinks that this is all part of the game.  What follows is a series of escalating misunderstandings and hilarity.

Game Night is one of those comedies that just seems to click.  Comedy is highly subjective, but I found most of the humor genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

The chemistry between the actors is great.  Despite the 10-year age difference, Bateman and McAdams mesh incredibly well.  I was worried that their competitiveness was going to devolve into a predictable antagonism between the two.  Instead the competition makes them tight-knit partners who strategize together.  Morris also has sharpened his comedic line-delivery from his years on The New Girl and it shows.  Most of the rest of the cast does a good job delivering the humor.

But special accolades must be given to Plemons as Gary.  This character is that socially awkward neighbor with whom any interaction is awkward and painful.  Everything he says and does is off-putting in the cringiest way.  And Plemons gives total commitment to embodying all of that awkwardness.  Even in the still photos in Gary's house, you can see Plemons give off that dead-eyed, slightly psychopathic stare that makes you both scared of him and sad for him.  Every time Plemons was on screen he made me laugh loudly.

Assisting these performances are directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.  One of the things that struck me while watching this was how visually dynamic the movie was.  Many comedies are very lazy when it comes to the directing, hoping that the humor of the words and the talent of the actors will carry the movie.  But Daley and Goldstein use the camera to intensify the action and enhance the humor.  They do a fascinating thing where the very wide shots make the buildings and the cars look like game pieces on a board.  It is a subtle visual trick that pulls you in.  They also have an incredibly fun single-take "keep away" game run through a large mansion that makes you feel like you are playing too.  And the film Plemon's Gary like a villain in a horror movie.  Rather than darken the tone, it makes Plemons performance pop even more.  I can still see in my mind's eye with great delight the scene where the group all shows up at Gary's door.  The staging and lighting of that scene show great care and humor.

They also know how to use a soundtrack.  Particularly, their strategic use of Queen at the beginning and the end of the film hit just the right emotional tones to draw you in and leave you feeling good.

And that is part of the fun of Game Night: you feel like you are also in the game.  The characters feel very relatable even when being horribly obsurd.  And the absurdity escalates while their upper-middle class world clashes with the violent underworld.  In a scene where Annie has to dig a bullet out Max's arm, she doesn't have rubbing alcohol and a leather belt for him to bite.  Instead she uses a Chardonay and gives him a doggy chew toy.  The insanity of the scene escalates and gets funnier the further it goes.

One of the things I liked about the film was that it wasn't about how this night of excitement was a welcome break from their boring lives.  The characters love their ordinary married life.  In fact, one of the sub plots involves Max not wanting kids because he loves the way his life with Annie has been thus far.  It was interesting for the movie to tackling this growing problem between couples who opt out of family.  There is a selfishness highlighted here and a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage as primarily a means of personal fulfillment rather than self-sacrificial love.  But as the movie goes on, we see that their closeness opens them up to new possibilities.

While I don't think the movie was intending to get too terribly deep, it was nice to have a movie that showed a normal marriage with happily married couple go through an absolutely bonkers game night.

image by Yasir72.multan

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