Recently, it seems to take a lot for a good comedy to appear at the flicks, after the Will Ferrell heyday (for me at least) and a general incorporation of comedy into other genres. Game Night is a great resurgence of dark humour and laugh out loud sketches, a clever, tight story starring some comedy veterans alongside some hilarious newbies.
Competitive gamers Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) host regular game nights with their friends. When Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) breezes back into town, he invites the couple and their friends to a new type of game night at his home, but things quickly unravel, and the group aren’t sure if they’re in a game or not…
I had been intrigued, given the reviews this was getting, to see what the fuss was about, and whether it was going to fall into the dumber (read: gross out) traps most comedies manage to. And Game Night is a truly funny film, toeing the line between dark comedy and thriller throughout but never far off another joke or set piece.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein utilise action movie beats and great suburban or inner city US locations to give a sense of place and roots for the outlandish comedy to take place. A lot of the situations are truly funny just for the collision of the mundane with the ridiculous, such as an impromptu gunshot wound surgery involving a dog’s chew toy and an iPhone that just escalates.
Writer Mark Perez does a particularly great job bottling the current zeitgeist around board games, escape rooms and the like – the game night is in resurgence, and so the situation the characters find themselves in is more relatable the thirst for harder games and that competitiveness that drives people to behave completely out of character.
In a way, this feels at times like David Fincher’s The Game but from a comedic perspective – that feeling of confusion about where the game ends and life begins. Here it’s often played for great laughs, though some jokes or situations end up being a bit less amusing due to either cultural differences (as with a lot of US comedies over here) or because something’s just a bit weak (and aiming for the easily entertained).
Jason Bateman stays comfortably within his archetype as a man child/confused bystander, though this is because he’s just the best at it. I love how he can project a resigned, upset feeling of inadequacy in just a couple of looks, and the film wouldn’t really be the same – or the character of Max – without him.
He works really well in a double act with McAdams because the characters fire each other up with enthusiasm, and so their scenes together are often more hilarious for this reason.She really ought to be in more comedies because she illuminates this one with a breathless excitement, almost manic, fittingly for one of an incredibly competitive couple.
New Girl’s Lamorne Morris finally builds on his background on the TV sitcom (as its best character, don’t question me) as cocky friend Kevin, again a man full of jokes (like the show’s Winston) but with a giant insecurity relating to wife Michelle, played with a sparky wit by Kylie Bunbury, and creating another of the film’s funny couples.
The third pair has Billy Magnussen go full dimwit as the shallow, idiotic Ryan, who gets most of the more stupid laughs, but is entertainingly depicted slowly understanding or misunderstanding any given explanation. His partner is the great Sharon Horgan, the Irish actress finally getting Hollywood recognition after the success of the hilarious Catastrophe, and more or less playing the same sarcastic, caustic character.
Kyle Chandler exudes pure macho smarm as Brooks, that archetypal older brother with everything the younger brother doesn’t have. Danny Huston and Jeffrey Wright make odd little cameos as a rich scumbag and the “FBI” agent taking part, as does Michael C. Hall channeling his dark side again after Dexter. Chelsea Peretti meanwhile makes an oddly unfunny appearance that completely wastes her comedic talents!
However, the standout is Jesse Plemons, as the couple’s neighbour Gary. The actor has been building a steady career as an intense character actor, but here channels his intensity and odd demeanour into an absolute scream of a role. From the way he stares silently, holding his pet dog, through to his very considered and blank delivery, nearly every moment he’s on screen increases the laughter, and he’s inspired casting as the creepy, quite pathetic neighbour who just wants to be involved.
Not every joke worked for me, but then that’s down to comedic taste. On every other note Game Night works, and when it’s funny it’s absolutely hilarious. Well worth a watch, and if you can, go with friends, because it only adds to the experience!