Review: Game Night | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Game Night

Film Critic Todd Waugh Ambridge is pleasantly surprised by new comedy Game Night

American comedies are in a bit of a dire state. The only good ones I can recall from the past couple of years are those masquerading as another genre – like Get Out or Thor: Ragnarok. While British comedies are bending the rules with Three Billboards and The Death of Stalin, Hollywood seems hell-bent on getting Charlie Day, Mila Kunis and Will Ferrell in a room and scraping the bottom of the barrel of amusing content together. But when I saw the first trailer for Game Night, I was intrigued. It looked like an interesting mix of traditional comedy and unexpected thriller. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as overly-competitive couple Max and Annie, who regularly host game nights with their four friends. When Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) turns up out of the blue with a promise of a games night they’ll never forget, the three couples instantly accept. However, the evening takes a turn for the weird after one of the group is seemingly kidnapped – and everyone else has to work out what is part of the game, what isn’t and how to win.

Right from the get-go, the film hooks with its stylistic approach. The opening titles and logos of the film are presented in a unifying format, with synth undertones highlighting the foreboding nature of the film. And then, the film instantly cuts to a two-minute ‘relationship montage’ showing how Max and Annie met, fell in love and married. It’s impossible not to get behind this couple straight away; the chemistry between Bateman and McAdams is undoubtedly there, but the film does the impossible and makes their relationship convincing in a way I’ve rarely seen in cinema.

The chemistry between Bateman and McAdams is undoubtedly there, but the film does the impossible and makes their relationship convincing in a way I’ve rarely seen in cinema
If this all sounds a bit quick-fire, then you’ll have trouble: the film doesn’t slow down… ever. The plot beats come fast, while the jokes come far faster; even though – surprisingly – almost all of them hit the bullseye. There are all the standard pop-culture jokes, witty one-liners and hilarious, overactive characters; but there’s much more than just that to Game Night. Unlike many other recent comedies, this film really gets what a comedy film should be. It’s not just about the funny jokes that could equally work as a radio play or stand-up performance: the framing, cinematography, music and acting all work together towards the comedy. There are framings and camera movements in this film (notably, the knife scene) that are both hilarious and a piece of cinematic genius. That being said, there are moments where the film glosses over a fantastic joke just to set up another; or explains something that was funny enough already. The writers just need to trust their ability a bit more and give their jokes the breathing space needed.

The rest of the writing here is solid enough, but not extraordinary. There are several character arcs interwoven with the main thriller-esque narrative that hold the film together well enough but don’t do much more than that. In fact, many of the B-plots to do with the other characters end up hitting a wall and not really mattering. And while I won’t say too much to spoil the main story, I will say that it is very interesting but perhaps not quite as clever as I suspect the writers believed it was. A weaker cast would not have done as well with the film’s screenplay, but thankfully Bateman and McAdams are perfect choices. Both are actors at the height of their careers (see: Ozark and Spotlight) and their abilities in both the dramatic and comedic worlds really bring the script to life. The rest of the cast is also fabulous, with special note going to Sharon Horgan as the enigmatic Sarah, who has some of the best one-liners in the film. Jesse Plemons, however, takes home the trophy of biggest comedic surprise: cursed to play a loner, the character of Gary is heartbreakingly hilarious and Plemons delivers some of the film’s most quotable lines while keeping a completely straight face and perfect comedic cadence.

What strikes me most about Game Night is how finely crafted a movie it is. The transitions, where each building and car look like a piece on a board, are so much better than they need to be. There’s a hilarious long-take sequence in the second act of the film that really is as brilliant as it is unnecessary.

What strikes me most about Game Night is how finely crafted a movie it is
And the soundtrack isn’t just generic filler, it’s actually superbly composed and heightens the action and comedy. The film’s closing credits, too, hide tens of visual jokes that alone will make Game Night worth a second viewing. Directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have put the extra time and effort into creating something that is not just a good comedy but a good film. And while the plot drifts a way a little in the third act, the laughs never do. This film may not be as irreverent as the smartest comedy films of Edgar Wright, but it is nowhere near as stupid as some of the stuff that has passed for acceptable in the past few years of Hollywood comedies. This is a step in the right direction, and a big one at that.

Verdict: A smart, funny, solid comedy highlighted by two headline performances by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, Game Night is much better than it needed to be and is exactly what the comedy genre needs right now.


Computer Science. Likes stuff and writing opinions on said stuff. (@tnttodda)


18th March 2018 at 9:00 am

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