Everyone’s a winner in this sharp, funny, and impressively directed comedy.
Let’s be honest: it’s pretty rare to watch a broad comedy nowadays that you don’t have to make excuses for. All too often we wind up having to say things like, “Well, the plot sucked but at least I laughed a lot,” or “It was funny but it went on half an hour too long.” And then of course there’s the dreaded, “I just turned off my brain and enjoyed it,” as if a movie that only works if you’re dumber than you actually are is something worth celebrating.
So it’s a real treat to watch a comedy as sharp as Game Night, a film with a clever screenplay, memorable characters, tight pacing and impressive filmmaking across the board. It may not be the funniest movie ever but it’s still extremely funny, and it works on basically every level.
In other words, you can enjoy Game Night without making any apologies. It’s just a good movie.
Game Night stars Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman as Annie and Max, ultra-competitive people who fell in love and became ultra-competitive spouses. They host a regular game night with their best friends, the shallow and dopey Ryan (Billy Magnussen), and the happily wedded Michelle and Kevin (Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris). Not invited, ever, is their creepy next door neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), who used to be part of the group but, well, he’s creepy. Super creepy.
The plot kicks off when Max’s older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, flaunts his fancy car, and challenges them all to the ultimate game night. It’s supposed to be a live-action role-playing mystery where Brooks gets kidnapped and everyone else has to find him, but right after the game is announced, Brooks actually gets kidnapped by dangerous criminals, and nobody realizes his life is in danger.
So we get a whole group of cutthroat gamers throwing themselves headlong into life-or-death situations, not realizing just how close they are to getting killed. And by the time they figure it out, there’s no walking away, because although they act like ultra-competitive jerks they actually do care about one another, even the biggest jerk of all: Brooks.
That’s how Game Night gets its biggest laughs and impressive suspense. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, working from a screenplay by Mark Perez, cleverly juxtapose real-life stakes and wacky situations. The characters take the story seriously when they need to, so you actually care what happens to them. This is not a silly film, even though it’s a film in which silly things happen.
Daley and Goldstein also smartly, and impressively, film Game Night like a thriller instead of a comedy. The moody lighting and intense camera angles are the stuff David Fincher movies are made of. The film’s biggest centerpiece, a game of life-or-death keep-away, is filmed in a single, impossibly elaborate shot that amplifies all the tension while simultaneously calling attention to the fact that everything the characters are saying and doing is fundamentally ludicrous.
The worst you can probably say for Game Night is that some parts are funnier than others (it happens) and the storyline gets increasingly improbable as the film goes on. But the overpowering style and absurd set-up let you know early on that although the characters feel real, the movie itself is a work of playful fantasy, so it gets away with that. Game Night plays it both ways, and that’s why it’s a winner.