Caught Game Night on demand recently. I had forgotten how funny Rachel McAdams can be. Near as I can tell, she hasn’t done a straight up comedy since Wedding Crashers. And even so, in that movie she plays a straight woman to all the hijinks going on around her. She doesn’t get a lot of laughs. You really have to go back 14 years to Mean Girls to see her being funny. It’s almost as if The Notebook‘s success pigeonholed her in more serious fare, keeping her out of the sort of broad comedic movies that are really Jason Bateman’s bread and butter. He’s been on a bit of a losing streak with his film output lately… Office Christmas Party, Bad Words, Identity Thief, The Switch, Couples Retreat, not one but two horrible Horrible Bosses movies… I mean, holy shit… despite that mountain of dreck, together with Rachel McAdams (and the rest of an excellent cast), Jason Bateman manages to make Game Night a shockingly funny little film. It helps that they’re surrounded by an extremely talented cast not necessarily known for comedies. Kyle Chandler plays a pivotal role as Bateman’s older brother, for which he actually smiles. Quite a bit actually. I seem to recall one of episode of Friday Night Lights where he let one corner of his mouth curl upward ever-so-slightly after his daughter said something particularly nice to him, but it was fleeting, quickly replaced with his standard furrowed brow. Speaking of Friday Night Lights, Jesse Plemons shows up in Game Night as a divorced ex-friend, a creepy police officer who lives next door to Bateman and McAdams and wants nothing more than to participate in game nights the way he used to when he was married to the woman who was actually their friend. Sharon Horgan, from Amazon’s Catastrophe, steals scene after scene as a stranger to the group, there on a date with a doofus who usually brings young vapid girls to game night to try and impress his friends with his dating prowess. Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris round out the cast as game night regulars, a couple arguing over the fact that one of them slept with a celebrity while they were on a break. The payoff for that subplot is pretty damn funny. Throw in a handful of more traditionally serious actors like Billy Magnassun, Michael C. Hall, and Danny Houston and Game Night really defies expectations given its somewhat silly plot.
Game Night, as the title suggests, is about a group of adults who meet weekly to compete in some friendly board game competition at Max and Annie’s (Bateman and McAdams) home. For the latest shenanigans, Max’s somewhat estranged and extremely successful brother, Brooks has invited them all to his place for a special night of fun. Unbeknownst to everyone, Brooks has arranged for a kidnapping/detective mystery type scenario not too dissimilar a Murder Mystery Dinner, were it crossed with a scavenger hunt. Things go awry, of course, when Brooks is actually kidnapped. It would ruin the fun if I went into it any further. Bad shit goes down and its damn funny. I’m still surprised how much I laughed. Usually film comedies disappoint me. Films like The House, Girls Night and Masterminds always have a great cast, but the films end up falling flat, wasting their few funny moments on the trailer, getting your ass in the seat only to find out those were the only funny moments in the film. Broad comedies are having a rough go of it in Hollywood right now. So much talent being wasted on dog shit scripts. It’s unfortunate that I’d rather watch Ghostbusters for the hundredth time than sit through ten minutes of Baywatch.
The best thing about Game Night is how low my expectations were. It’s nice when a film surprises you, in any way at all. Whether it’s scarier than you thought it would be, or more thrilling, darker, weirder, more thoughtful, or funnier. Too many times a movie is exactly what you were afraid it would be. Game Night bucks that trend. Next time you got 5 bucks & 90 minutes to spare and feel like chuckling, give Game Night a whirl.
If you feel less like laughing and more like poking an exposed nerve, check out Ozark on Netflix. While Jason Bateman’s films aren’t exactly breaking box office records, he’s killing it on the small screen. I cannot recommend Ozark enough. A dark, deeply intimate crime drama about a Mexican cartel money launderer from Chicago trying to stay one step ahead of those very same international cartels plus local crime lords, small town thugs, and the FBI as he tries to keep his family alive in rural Missouri. Give it a shot. I’ll leave you with a quote:
The satisfying sound of your lover hitting the pavement is the only thing that gets me to sleep.