Comedy-Caper ‘Game Night’ Is A Winner

by Ben Martin

A little over a decade ago, new life was breathed into the subgenre of R-rated comedy. While this subgenre had never gone away, it hadn’t proven theatrically bankable since the late 80s. (Though it should be noted that filmmakers like Kevin Smith (Clerks) always had a devoted cult following on home video.) In 2005, that all changed when Judd Apatow and his brand of comedy graced the silver-screen in the form of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and ended up making nearly $200 million worldwide on a $26 million budget.
After this, comedies aimed strictly at adults became a regular mainstay of the cinema, once again. Two talents that came to light due to this trend were the writing duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The pair made their bones with the 2011 raunchy romp Horrible Bosses and its less-impressive sequel. Following that, the team penned Vacation Reboot (2015) and most recently wrote the screenplay for last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. For their most recent effort, the duo is returning to their R-rated roots with Game Night. However, Game Night is more than just an adult comedy; it’s also a thriller.
The film follows married couple Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams). Each week, they gather with their group of four friends for a game night. These weekly game nights are the highlight of the groups week. That is, except for avoiding Max and Annie’s oddball, somewhat creepy neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons). All is status quo until Max’s older, more prosperous and handsome brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) joins in on game night. As is his style, Brooks not only insist on hosting game night; but also taking it up a notch. Alas, taking it up a notch proves to be a deadly game as the participants of game night must now follow clues to solve a mystery; all the while evading killers.

The comedy-caper is a rare genre hybrid. Yes, the cult classic and appropriately enough, movie adaptation of Clue (1985) leaps to mind. Alas,  that’s about the only example of such. This is most-likely because mixing comedy and a violent mystery is a tricky balance. If any of the respective genre elements are combined incorrectly, the film will prove to be like a poorly made cocktail that ends up tasting like straight liquor. Thankfully, that isn’t the case for Game Night. To the contrary, this film is a perfectly-balanced genre-bender. The mystery and violence therein are just as intriguing as the movie’s jokes are funny. While this flick isn’t a laugh a minute, the laughs it delivers are consistent. Moreover, the humor enhances the plot and vice-versa.

Of course, all of this content is bolstered by the fantastic ensemble cast. The chemistry between these actors is impeccable, and there isn’t a moment in which any of them, as supporting characters are overshadowed. While the other four friends: Sarah (Sharon Horgan), Ryan (Billy Magnussen), Kevin (Lamorne Morris), and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) aren’t the films primary focus, they are integral as they do advance the film’s plot. Plus, they are all immensely likable characters. However, it’s Jesse Plemons’ performance as Gary that steals the show. Most would recognize this actor from his turn as Todd in the later seasons of Breaking Bad (2008-2013).
Those who do may also jokingly refer to Plemons as “Creepy Matt Damon,” as I to do. In Game Night, Plemons employs his unique skill-set of playing a sympathetic, but incredibly odd and well, creepy characters. However, the actor also manages to do a little more than deliver what audiences might have come to expect from him. Beyond that, Gary also proves to be this comedy’s funniest character. In fact, he has a line near the end of this picture that made me laugh so hard that I nearly cried.

One element of a film enhances another when they are executed well. This is undoubtedly the case for writers and first-time directors, Daley and Goldstein. As directors, not only do the pair have a command over the ensemble, they also have style. In a recent interview, the pair stated that they wanted to make this movie in the form of an 80s noir, visually. Furthermore, they said that if you watched this film without sound, it might not work as a comedy; but would still work as a mystery-thriller. I feel that with the help of cinematographer Barry Peterson who is also lensing the upcoming The Spy Who Dumped Me, this visual goal was achieved. By doing so, Game Night becomes a much prettier picture to look at compared to otherwise generally visually-flat comedies.
Now, despite my overall enjoyment and praise of this movie, it does have a fatal flaw. Game Night is just too long. At an hour and 40 minutes, this movie feels more like a solid two hours. For the most part, the movie’s pacing is fine for the most-part. However, there are times when it does lag, and when this happens, it’s genuinely felt. Because of this, I think the movie could be cut down a bit without losing anything. On an additional note, for an R-rated comedy, Game Night wasn’t as raunchy as I’d come to expect. I didn’t mind this at all as the film still earns its rating. In fact, I found it to be refreshing. Thus, if you are expecting an exceptionally raunch-filled romp, just know that going in. In closing, I can easily say that Game Night is a pretty unique comedy. It’s also one of the best comedies I’ve seen in awhile. If you’re a fan of good comedy, something a little different or merely any of these cast-members, I recommend Game Night.


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