Movie trailers can be deceiving. To watch a trailer for the new film, “Game Night,” one might think that they were being setup to see a middling comedy, something with a few chuckles no doubt, but also with much potential left unfulfilled. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein, with a script from Mark Perez, “Game Night” is nothing short of outstanding. From start to finish, it is a funny movie, one in which the entire cast delivers solid performances, or better. In fact, while Jason Bateman, Kyle Chandler, Kylie Bunbury, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, and Lamorne Morris are all good, both Jesse Plemons are Rachel McAdams are outstanding, with McAdams proving once again that she is criminally underutilized in Hollywood.
The setup for the whole affair feels like a perfectly standard sort of comedy – Bateman and McAdams are Max and Annie, a married couple with an incredible desire to win at everything. This desire includes taking down all comers at the game night that they hold on a regular basis for their friends: married couple Kevin (Morris) & Michelle (Bunbury), and Ryan (Magnussen) & whomever he happens to be dating that night. Things change though when Max’s brother, Brooks (Chandler), shows up and instantly decides he needs to take game night over. Brooks ups the stakes, hiring a company to organize a kidnapping mystery game night, only the whole thing goes off the rails when Brooks is actually kidnapped.
The audience watches as things turn disturbingly real, and while the movie may offer a few easy scares, it manages to stay incredibly funny. Everyone gets in on the laughs, and every couple has their own story going on to which the film returns more than once. The actors who make up these pairings all work well together and truly provide each with their own dynamic. Horgan is particularly wonderful when it comes to her relationship with Magnussen’s Ryan. This couple is given slightly short shrift as the tale of their relationship plays out, but perhaps that is because their relationship did not exist before this game night.
Undeniably though, at the film’s center is Bateman and McAdams. The two make for a marvelous—and believable—couple. A scene in which some first aid is needed works particularly well for the two, as do the scenes which precede it. It is in these moments in particular when McAdams shows just how wonderful an actress she is, and how much she can make a scene her own.
As for Plemons’ Gary, he is the odd man out. Gary, a police officer, was once a part of game night but was dismissed from the group when his wife left him. Plemons plays Gary as a dead-eyed, incredibly creepy, rather off-kilter man. His deliver is flat and dark, but goes so far over the top that it imparts humor as opposed to horror.
It isn’t just the cast that works either. “Game Night” delivers twist after twist after twist. In fact, there are enough of them that one will want to see the movie again if only to understand how it all hangs together (or doesn’t hang together… but I suspect it does).
On top of all of this, the visual language used in some of the moments elevates the entire. A number of wide shots make it appear as though the audience is looking at a game board and as the camera zooms in, it becomes reality. This is a small but clever sort of flair which successfully adds to the movie’s overall tone.
With all of this already in play, toss in some great cameos by Chelsea Peretti, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, and Jeffrey Wright, and you have yourself a movie.
“Game Night” proves that it is still absolutely possible to take a rather simple sort of an idea and, with the right cast and right jokes, turn it into something special. It has been several years since I laughed this hard in a movie theater.
photo credit: Warner Bros.