Certain films are made with the intention to win awards. For example, when Steven Spielberg picks up a camera and walks into a room, the intention is to walk out of it with an Oscar. This is the goal of many films.
Game Night is thankfully not one of those movies.
Co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who misfired with the lukewarm Vacation), this is a guilt-free and hilarious time at the movies. It will take your mind off real life and won’t ask you to think too much. It’s fun, something that Hollywood forgets about when they make movies.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams look like the perfect couple on the surface. Two ultimate competitors who fell in love at trivia night, Max and Annie were soulmates. They have a great house in the suburbs, even if it comes with the weird, widowed police officer neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons). Their friends, including the dopey yet lovable Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and the high school sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), come over for the weekly game night.
However, Max’s rivalry with his brother, the rich and charismatic Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hasn’t lost any steam from their childhood, which Brooks doesn’t hesitate to revisit with embarrassing stories and painful reminders. When Brooks rides into town and wants to host a “different” kind of game night, Max and Annie see this as an opportunity to finally take down the big brother.
They have no idea what’s in store for them, but let’s just say the audience benefits from the chaos.
I laughed a lot during this movie. It’s a good time. This is an easy going cinematic experience that doesn’t demand you to think too hard nor does it make you look at your watch constantly. Daley and Goldstein’s film, working from a script by Mark Perez, keeps moving, is never boring, and stays away from heavy themes that would have dampened the effect of the main ingredient, which is comedy.
So often with comedies, they tend to get melodramatic or mix in so many subplots that you forget what the main idea was. With Game Night, there is one goal: following a group of ordinary people around who find out something about themselves that only a little of suspense can unearth.
Is Brooks hiding a few secrets? Sure. Will those secrets get his brother and friends into trouble? You bet. Will the sight of a guy trying to scrub blood of a dog only to make it worse make you laugh out loud? Bingo.
“Laugh out loud” is thrown around these days, but I did it a few times during this movie. Seeing a grown man bite down on a squeaky pet toy as a bullet is extracted from his arm is one of them. Morris perfecting a Denzel Washington impersonation is endless fun. McAdams dancing around a bar with a loaded gun in her hand is just hot goodness. Every time Ryan calls his date British, when she is actually an Irish woman, you laugh as she scolds him. Let’s just say an Edward Norton joke goes a long way.
The cast was perfectly assembled. I like when Bateman stretches out in darker roles like Netflix’s Ozark and Disconnect, but this comedy zone is his sweet spot. He has an effortless, cynically based humor that borders on acerbic that never gets old. You could have plucked out Max from Bateman’s role in Horrible Bosses (which Goldstein co-wrote), added some seasoning, and arrived at the same character-but the actor makes it work.
McAdams adds a little spunk to her heroine in a part that most actresses would have played straight. The usually stoic Chandler cuts loose playing an imperfect man, and it’s a refreshing site. Plemons gives enough uncomfortable willpower to make you feel for Gary while keeping an eye on him.
Keep an eye out for a surprise casting choice that made me do a double take.
Game Night doesn’t wish to reinvent the movie wheel or gun for Best Picture. It just wants to make you laugh and forget about reality for a couple hours. You’ll get up from your seat as the credits roll, and laugh again at that one part. This movie should make even the coldest cynic giggle. The filmmakers and cast did a good job here.
When a comedy is done right, it can be as satisfying as a hardcore Oscar worthy drama.