Monday, March 19, 2018

Game Night Is A Highly Enjoyable Comedy With An Outstanding Jesse Plemons Performance

Well now, Game Night is quite a surprise and a very funny surprise at that. Jason Bateman, after starring in a recent string of subpar live-action comedies like Office Christmas Party and Horrible Bosses 2 (though, to be fair, more unorthodox roles in the likes of Zootopia and The Gift have made excellent use of his many talents as an actor), has hit upon another winner here and he's not the only actor who works exceptionally well here, far from it. Before we dive into the specifics of which cast members excel and why, let's get the story of Game Story straight, which, like many comedies, wring humor out of plunging normal people into heightened circumstances.

Our two leads are married couple Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a pair of human beings who have a competitive drive that emerges in full swing when they're playing all sorts of games like charades or trivia contests together. Naturally, these two game enthusiasts host weekly game nights with their friends Ryan (Billy Magnussen), Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), one of which Max's brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) attends when he's in town on business. Max has always had a rivalry with his brother stemming from how Brooks is so much more successful than Max, which makes Brooks proposal to host the next Game Night at his place incredibly frustrating.

But Max and Annie go to the part, along with Ryan, Ryan's new girlfriend Sarah (Sharon Horgan), Kevin and Michelle in tow, with Brooks revealing their game night will revolve around a staged murder mystery. Those plans get sidetracked when Brooks is kidnapped by gangsters whom Max, Annie and their friends don't realize are not a part of the game. There's real danger in here and it's in seeing how the characters react to that danger that Game Night gets a lot of it's best laughs. Ed Helms once noted how the very first Hangover movie generated a lot of it's laughs from "...the situation [the characters] are in, or the way you're reacting to something, as opposed to the characters just saying something witty", which feels like a succinct way to describe how and why Game Night is just so funny.

Now, there are plenty of memorable dialogue-driven pieces of humor in here, including a number of instances of clever wordplay that you just don't see often enough in modern-day American comedies, but a large swath of the most humorous scenes in Game Night involves the main characters unwittingly stepping into daunting circumstances and then navigating said circumstances. Simply the assorted situations Max and Annie find themselves in throughout this single night, including a great sequence where Annie tries to remove a bullet from Max's arm, are funny enough while strong performances from the assorted cast members provide great reactions to being stuck in those aforementioned humorous situations.

Speaking of the assorted cast members, this is a thoroughly strong cast, I can't think of a dud in the bunch honestly, they're all convincing actors and each of them provides plenty of laughs. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams have endearing chemistry together while McAdams is so funny here (love that she gets to be as wacky and comedic as the male lead character) that I hope her future acting roles lean heavily on the comedic side, she's a riot. Billy Magnussen, after leaping onto my radar as basically Logan Paul in Ingrid Goes West last year, plays another dim-witted dolt that provides a number of yuks as does Sharon Horgan playing the intellectually superior lady Magnussen's character brings along to this fateful game night.

The best of the bunch though, without question, has got to be Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie's neighbor Gary Kingsbury. From his very first moment where he just pets his dog and creepily intones about wanting to be invited to their next game night, Plemons provides a startling level of commitment to this role, especially in his stiff body language and minimal variety in facial expressions, that ends up creating some of Game Night's biggest laughs. His very first scene is also aided in it's humorousness by clever camerawork from cinematographer Barry Peterson, who has the camera slowly pan in on Plemons face as he prattles on, a move that gives an already hilarious scene an extra dose of visual humor.

There's an assortment of cleverly executed visual traits in Game Night that are refreshing to see here, actual thought has gone into the camerawork & editing and it works to the film's advantage big time. The direction from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein shows a similar level of craftsmanship, especially in terms of keeping the pacing (a crucial element for any comedy) of the project working well aside from a third act conflict between Max and Annie that feels extraneous given that the film, at this point in the story, has plenty of friction to work with. That kind of gripe aside, Daley and Goldstein show real chops as comedic directors with Game Night, a clever comedy that took me by surprise with it's craftsmanship and strong performances, especially when it comes to Jesse Plemons who just owns the movie with his incredible work here.

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