Saturday, 24 February 2018


A group of friends (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury) find themselves in over their heads when their weekly game night turns into a hunt for Max's (Bateman) missing brother (Kyle Chandler).

This movie is awesome. Not only is it hilarious, but it is also well-written (by Mark Perez) and well-directed (by Vacation's Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley). This movie wants to be a comedy and a dark thriller and manages to walk this line without falling over on either side of it. The movie is filled with weird, creepy choices, which feed into the comedy, rather than detracting from it.

The script manages to flesh out the characters and make them all part of the action: Bateman and McAdams are competitive gamers trying to have a baby; Billy Magnusson is a superficial man-child with a rudimentary understanding of how the world works; Morris and Bunbury are soulmates who have been together since they were kids.

This particular game night sees all these characters forced to deal with their own personal crises: Bateman's jealousy towards his brother; Morris and Bunbury dealing with infidelity; Magnusson learning... stuff about how the world works. Kinda.

What makes the comedy and the thriller elements work is that the characters take the situation dead seriously. No matter how ridiculous the situation gets, they always feel like ordinary people reacting to a situation they have no understanding of: car chases, knowing how to operate heavy machinery and treating flesh wounds. There are some really silly things that happen in this movie, but Bateman and the rest of the cast manage to make it feel grounded. And because the stakes always feel real, the laughs always hit harder.

It is so great to see Jason Bateman in a good comedy again. His forte is the middle-class white guy trying to keep it together, and Game Night is one of his best vehicles, giving him and Rachel McAdams a great showcase for their comedic skills. They make so much sense as a couple, and their dynamic gives the movie a baseline for the chaos that ensues.

While they anchor the movie, if Game Night has an MVP, it is Jessi Plemons as their creepy neighbour. A divorcee who was let out of game night for being too creepy, Plemons' performance is terrific: the blank eyes, the lack of obvious emoting on the face... there is something off about his character throughout the movie, and the filmmakers lean into it. When Plemons is onscreen, the movie becomes deeply uncomfortable, in the best possible way.

This movie has so much to recommend it. It may be the best directed comedy I have seen in a while, particularly a big studio production. There is a care and attention to character and tone that is so specific (the bird's eye shots of the neighbourhood which make the houses look like pieces on a game board) and idiosyncratic  that keeps Game Night feeling singular.

I mean, this movie bothers to have a main title sequence. How many movies do that any more? It does not even look like a comedy. Nowadays, comedies look more like TV than film - even a great comedy like Spy plays out in static wide shots, with bland lighting that does not convey any sense of atmosphere.

From a directorial standpoint, what is great about Game Night shows a grasp of the fundamentals of dramatic story-telling. The movie is lit like a thriller, with a lot of chiaroscuro and neon. Even the moments of visual panache feel completely functional: there is a sequence involving all of our heroes working together to get a Farbarge egg out of a villain's house, all the while being chased by his goons. The entire sequence is captured in a single take, as the characters throw the egg to each other. The camera tracks down hallways, up stairways, and everywhere else. It sounds like a technical exercise, but it never feels like it. Because the shot is focused on the egg, it begins to feel like we are part of a game, watching our team trying to keep the ball out of the other team's hands. It is funny and tense all at the same time, and it feels effortless.

Even the soundtrack is something to write home about. Cliff Martinez is famous for his dark electronica, and he gives Game Night a propulsive, John Carpenterish-sense of synthetic tension that helps to maintain the sense of peril our heroes are in.

This movie is fantastic. Genre-blending comedies are such a rare commodity, particularly as mainstream releases. Heck, it is hard enough trying to find a good comedy, period. 

I cannot recommend it enough. 

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