Well-directed/ scripted & cast, the comedy’s willingness to try but not too hard is what makes it a winner.
A complaint I’ve held about major comedies of late, is that they aren’t really movies so much as they are a sketch vehicles that deliver jokes almost exclusively through dialogue. There’s usually very little directorial effort put forth to frame these jokes in the funniest or most pleasing way for the audience, nor do these movies usually edit a succession of scenes together to create or payoff a coherent story well. Those sketch style comedies of the Apatow Variety have funny moments but like any genre it can get stale, as evidence why with the exception of female comedies like Bad Moms and Girl’s Trip no pure R-rated comedy has made over $100 million domestic in the last year or so. Maybe it’s because of this the filmmakers of this movie with their self-reflexive script, decide to “take Game Night up a notch”.
That last quote is attributed to Brooks, (Emmy-Winner Kyle Chandler) the brash and seemingly more successful older brother of ultra-competitive Max (Golden Globe-winner Jason Bateman ever straight and sarcastic) whose energetic girlfriend Annie (Academy Award-Nominee Rachel McAdams winningly returning to comedy) provides a great foil and gets a lot of laughs. Their chemistry, despite a 10 year age difference helps fill out a rock solid roster that includes Kevin (New Girl‘s Lamorne Morris), a man who regardless of the situation is trying to figure out which celebrity his girlfriend Michelle (Kylie Bunbury of Pitch) scored with while they were on a break. The other participants are Ryan (Billy Magnussen), a loveable dolt who brings along Sarah (Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe) a “double-threat” he has no interest in dating just so he can win Game Night. The most memorable performance however actually belongs to the lonely widowed next door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) a former friend of Max and Annie who just wants to be included. They all work off each other really well and maintain the momentum of the surprisingly well-executed story of a murder-mystery party gone bad.
John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein have certainly stepped their game up from directing the Vacation reboot. Previously writers on Horrible Bosses and 2 of 6 on Spider-Man: Homecoming, here they choreograph a long take sequence more thrilling and less obviously blended than the casino fight in last week’s Black Panther. This is one of many cool and trendy POV shots the movie throws in to keep you awake like attaching the camera to a car door as it swings open or following behind vehicles like in a third person racing game, with the added context of the events and characters being framed like pieces on a board game. Other directorial flourishes start with the opening logos establishing its own look and color or later on in one sequence the camera twisting each time a character tries to open a lock. Those instances along with the well filmed action scenes give the movie the privilege of not having to try so hard to be funny and swing for the fences all the time. When it’s not being funny one can admire how unlike many comedies everything actually lines up and at least bothers to make sense. Characters change and have motivations, there’s a consistent theme even if it’s occasionally too on the nose “This is some full-circle level-bullsh*t” quotes Max.
Small things that keep the movie off the level of instant classic are things the directors purposely overlooked. The electronic score from Cliff Martinez (Spring Breakers) stands out but is underused as there are portions of the movie that run flat without anything going on in the background and the production design compunds this problem as its rather bare looking aside from a few key tables and props. It helps that the actors are so good you don’t really notice. I can’t tell if it was the theater (Landmark probably) or the sound mixing but the movie ran quieter like I was watching a tv show at home. A few key sequences were certainly loud enough but could’ve used a well placed crack or slightly louder dialogue to liven things up as good sound is underrated. I guess I can’t blame the movie for inaudible lines because the audience is laughing though, this movie is best experienced in a crowded theatre with a lot of people to get the most joy out of it. If you can try, go into this movie blind as my dad and uncle did and Game Night will be your time will well spent.
Rachel McAdams has the world’s best smile:
Jason Bateman has great taste!
John Francis Daly was Lance Sweets on Bones and Sam Weir on Freaks & Geeks.