Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks (Chandler), arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game – right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this game – nor Brooks – are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had… or game over.
The directorial combination of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have had a steady career of hit and miss comedies. For every Horrible Bosses there is a Vacation, so I went into this viewing with a sense of cautious optimism. Fortunately for everyone who saw Game Night, its 1980s retro score, great comedic timing, and story that always keeps you guessing were more than enough to carry this film and make everybody laugh.
One of the things that Game Night does best is it taps into the nostalgia that many of the older viewers had about the 1980’s. While they show the classic board games as they were meant to be played, they also were able to subtly hint at what they would look like if they had a life-size version and the chaos and hilarity it would cause. Moving on to the score, it has an electric feel like something out of Tron that was able to set the mood flawlessly. It was able to transition smoothly from moments of tension and suspense to moments of joy and humor, which really set the tone for almost all the scenes. Moving on to different comedic elements of Game Night, I personally like when jokes are set up, forgotten about, and then it comes back to hit us hard. Game Night will make a few comments here and there that if you are not paying attention, you will think nothing of it. But then, some time passes and out of nowhere the punchline happens. Making viewers wait a little bit for the payoff makes the joke that much funnier when it finally lands and I appreciated when Game Night used this tactic.
Finally, I wanted to focus on one of the major story themes of the movie. The tagline throughout the film is that you will never know what is real and what is part of the game. While some people may not like getting invested in a story that could ultimately lead nowhere, I loved how the story shifts dramatically in a moment’s notice. I think this in large part due to the performance of Jesse Plemons as Gary, Max (Bateman) and Amy’s (McAdams) weird next-door neighbor. We have all had that one person who is not the most likable or sociable in our inner circle and it was nice to see that role included in this film. You never know whether or not he is going to do something crazy or dangerous and it helps build the suspense up nicely. While some people may feel cheated that the story can be unclear at times, but I personally loved how it switches from a real story to a fake story so quickly. Add this to some beautiful camerawork, specifically the tracking shots in the Bulgarian’s house and you have a recipe for a successful comedy.
Overall, Game Night took a few chances, but due to the strong team working on this project, it paid off in a big way. Smart comedies generally have a harder time sticking with audiences, as some of the jokes can go over people’s heads. Game Night managed to strike a nice balance with its humor that made the experience enjoyable for almost anyone. Personally, I hope movies like this become the blueprint for comedies in the future. Including actors with both dramatic and comedic range like Bateman and McAdams made the movie more memorable and I hope that more dramatic actors do this moving forward.
Overall Score: 8/10