The first thing I noticed about Game Night was just how well made it is. What looked to be a raunchy comedy relegated to forgettable status, is actually a well directed, hilarious comedy about relationships, encroaching responsibility and most importantly, games.
Noticing Cliff Martinez was involved with the score I was excited and intrigued as to how he’d balance his trademark synth intensity with more lighthearted fare. Surprisingly, Game Night digs into its neo-noir influences, setting up the rules of it’s world quickly and efficiently before immediately experimenting with our expectations.
Directed by longtime duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, I was expecting more Horrible Bosses schticky joke writing that landed every so often. Luckily Game Night fares far better than that, telling an engaging story about ultra competitive couple Max and Annie who are unwittingly dragged into a drug smuggling nightmare by Max’s older brother Brooks, played with ample charm by Kyle Chandler.
It’s Chandler who sets up the initial comedy, stepping up Max and Annie’s game night with one of those realistic fake kidnappings with clues to solve. It’s the type of situation you’ve read a shitty clickbait article about, deciding not to partake because you aren’t a psycho and are happy to get your kicks elsewhere. So of course, after being told that nothing they’ll experience during game night is real, shit hits the proverbial fan with drug deal gone wrong heightening the situation considerably. The group thinking it’s all a joke provides consistent laughs, but Daley and co., were smart about not taking it so far that it becomes wildly unrealistic, consequently pulling us out of the narrative.
Dots are connected and eventually things get serious, but it’s also here where the comedy is tailored to fit. The transition from oblivious goofy comedy to smart, interesting characters navigating a fucked up situation is handled with considerable skill. Game Night has this weird auteur sensibility to it, mainly in it’s cinematography and editing which make it far more intense than any of genre peers. It’s almost as if Nicolas Winding Refn decided to play the Hollywood game for once and make his own comedy.
What sets up the comedy so well is what I’ve always said is the key factor for any movie of this ilk: the characters. Jason Bateman as Max and Rachel McAdams as Annie anchor the film, bringing a great chemistry to characters who feel layered. Their relationship arc isn’t stagnant as often the case is with comedic drama of this sort, and by the end of the film they feel different from when we first met them. But it’s Jesse Plemons as Gary, the divorced weirdo neighbour who stands out. His deadpan delivery had me cracking up throughout. Plemons puts in character work that’s solid and nuanced, his turn in the second season of FX’s Fargo coming to mind. I’d love to eventually see him taking on a meatier leading role landing him the attention he deserves. Rounding out the talented cast you had Kylie Bunbury, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris and Chelsea Peretti in a hilarious cameo.
Overall, Game Night is a well directed comedy that actually manages to be a good film and not just fluff to laugh at for 90 minutes. The cast is great, bringing solid performances to the table while clearly having a lot of fun. It’s easy to see everyone involved loved the material and weren’t just in need of a paycheck (looking at you Hangover three). I do hope Daley and Goldstein continue with this level of polish on their next projects.
Go check this one out for a fun date night.