‘That’ll cheer you up.’ – Game Night (Film Review)

In recent years, there’s been a real deficit of good comedy movies. During the noughties they seemed to be churned out by Hollywood with regular frequency. Rarely did a month pass without a prat or frat pack starring vehicle grace our screens. Recently, thought, the well seems to have been running dry. There’s been superhero movies that have been really funny, like Deadpool or Thor: Ragnarok, but that’s mostly been about it.  The trailer for Game Night landed a couple of months back and things weren’t looking all that hopeful – it looked confused tonally, featured an array of seemingly ill-conceived hijinks and some gags that weren’t all that funny. Expectations were low.

And yet, from the outset, you quickly realise this film is going to be a lot smarter and funnier than you may have expected. Board game themed singina appears from the outset and the all the necessary exposition for our leads Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) is achieved via a montage, soundtracked by Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now that is a well judged meeting of funny and endearing. Max and Annie’s meet-cute at a Borg vs Merkins quiz night leads onto a marriage and their hosting weekly game night with childhood sweethearts Kevin & Michelle (Morris and Bunbury) and Ryan (Magnussen), pursuer of young, attractive but slightly dim women. When Max’s immensely successful brother Brooks (Chandler) arrives in town for a visit he takes over everyone’s lives as usual, charming everyone but Max who’s made to feel constantly insignificant by his brother. The very last straw is when Brooks takes over game night, choosing to stage a kidnapping that ends up getting very out of hand…

Thriller and comedy are blended together mostly successfully. Lots of twists and turns occur on the way, many of which aren’t as predictable as may be expected. The film also has some oddball moments and a some surprisingly dark beats too! It’s clear from the outset that the creators have been wise enough to avoid realism and instead embrace the absurd. This only works because the central characters are so well developed – each has a subplot beyond the main narrative and these are all well interwoven into proceedings. Everything manages to be well balanced and the pacing is well maintained – we flick between different subplots with just the right amount of frequency to allow for both development and humour.

Magnussen, one of the less familiar of the central six, provides one of the most memorable performances as a dim Joey-from-Friends archetype yet somehow manages to be rather endearing and very funny. This is helped by the fact he’s partnered with Sarah (Horgan) who is just wonderful as his new date, who Ryan only invited to prove to his friends he doesn’t just date one type of woman. Horgan counterbalances his oddball with a wry performance and excellent dry delivery of the gags.

In terms of supporting cast, Plemons as spurned former friend Police Officer Gary, is a scene-stealer. Building on the creep factor he showed in the most recent series of Black Mirror yet with added layers of sadness and embitterment provides some of the film’s funniest moments.

None of this would be possible however if it wasn’t for the MVPs Bateman and McAdams. Their chemistry is excellent and fully believable, bouncing off each other with some back and forth that produces some genuine laughs. Their story arc is well executed and they manage to make moments that could have been too silly or too outlandish feel that much more developed and sharply funny.

The standout scene has to be the faberge egg scene. To say too much about it would spoil it. Suffice to say it epitomises the reason the film works so well – it’s a team effort with everyone working together in harmony to get the job done to surprisingly great effect.

Dir: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Scr: Mark Perez

Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons

Prd: John Davis, Jason Bateman, John Fox, James Garavente

DOP: Barry Peterson

Music: Cliff Martinez

Country: USA

Year: 2018

Runtime: 100 minutes

Game Night is in UK cinemas from the 2nd March.