After this year's vigorous Oscar season, I thought it was a decent idea to kick back and watch a movie that I had no hype for whatsoever. Game Night was a film that I watched mainly due to Annihilation's strange British release on Netflix. Gringo was another film that came to mind at the time, but after a strong pint, me and a couple of film nerds / friends decided against the idea.
After watching the trailer, I thought that the film was going to be just another generic comedy movie with some sort of twist at the end. The trailer felt generic (albeit, I preferred it to "Gringo" or that God-awful Amy Schumer film that I completely forgot the name of and would have to be bribed to go and see), but the trailer did at least look like something that would entertain me and a couple of tipsy film students for a couple of hours. It's safe to say that Game Night's trailer did not give me the impression that the film was "brilliant", but the film was "surprisingly good" by the time I left the cinema.
So, Game Night is a film directed by both John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, starring actors such as Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Jesse Plemons. The film didn't need to cast A-list actors, and I feel as if Game Night was happy doing its own little thing. It was quite refreshing to see a simplistic movie after Oscar season, it's almost a breath of fresh air to just sit down and enjoy simple entertainment without worrying about its impact on the industry that it was made for. The film itself follows the lives of a group of friends who attend weekly game nights, the main protagonist Max (Jason Bateman) and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) host these game nights with the intention of winning on a regular basis. Once Max's successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), visits the lovely couple, Max feels threatened by his success as a stock market trader. The film then follows the group as Brooks decides to host his own "game night" where he hires actors to kidnap him, leading the group onto a "murder mystery" style of adventure. However, once the protagonists realize that Brooks has been kidnapped by real kidnappers, the group decides to do the most that they can to save Brooks from being brutally murdered.
Of course, the film doesn't need some kind of "Inception" style premise, but this synopsis sets up a somewhat interesting idea for the film, most of the comedy comes from the protagonist's ignorance, or their casual and unconventional ways of dealing with horrifying stakes. It's also important to note that this comedy succeeds on one main thing: character. Each character has their own relatable and understandable motives that make them easily definable (a lot of "ables"). Bateman's character is a competitive man with the main intention of his actions being to win against his brother, with McAdams' character reflecting that same personality. Their friends, Ryan, Kevin and Michelle also have their own interesting personalities, Ryan (Billy Magnussen) is a dim-witted character who somehow manages to acquire a new love interest for each different game night, whereas Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are a "perfect couple" type. One annoying subplot in this film however does revolve around Morris' and Bunbury's relationship, how Michelle slept with a celebrity before they were married. This joke continues for 3 different scenes where Kevin constantly chimes in with "so who did you sleep with?", this joke would have been funny if it wasn't repeated many times, and if the revelation of her famous lover was earlier on in the film.
It is clear to say that not all jokes land in this film, and that is completely fine, some jokes felt forced (specifically a few Donald Trump jokes that were sprinkled in, not that Donald Trump jokes are bad, but some of the jokes here were just lazy) but overall, I did get a few chuckles here and there. I think that the main source of comedy came from the writer's brilliant understanding of film conventions, for example; one of the running jokes of the film is for a character to hit a perfectly set up glass table, only for it not to smash, causing a character to retort with "damn, that's a strong table!". It would have been nice if this joke was expanded on however, like if they managed to find a glass table that did end up breaking? Another great source of comedy comes from how Jesse Plemons character is presented, Plemons plays the neighbour Gary, a cop who the group used to play games with, but dislike playing with him now after his wife left him. Plemons' character is presented as somewhat intimidating during the first act of the film, and a great visual joke throughout this act is when he appears suddenly in shot, whether that be outside his door, or standing in front of Max's mailbox, this "jump scare" like joke was really well done.
Speaking of jump scares, the film does suffer from a few bad ones within the first few acts of the movie. The jump scares are poorly done, and it honestly made me feel as if I was watching some kind of "comedy thriller" within the first part of the movie. After the third or fourth jump scare though, there are none more to be seen, and the tone of the film changes into a simple "action comedy". It was just jarring to see such a strange tonal shift within a movie, and as someone who really despises jump scares, I didn't enjoy it at all.
What surprised me the most in this film however was how well it was shot. The director of photography must have had an absolute field day with this film, due to how transitions are filmed on a cute "tilt shift" manner, as if the locations were pieces on a board game. There was also a scene where the camera was stabilized onto the lock of a door, and onto a car door to create an "Edgar Wright" style. There were some nice-looking shots, and it really felt out of place in a comedy movie such as this one. It's not a bad thing that it was out of place though, in fact, it was enjoyable to see a well shot comedy film, it wasn't as over the top as some of Edgar Wright's work, but it was still refreshing to see anyway.
Overall, Game Night was a surprisingly good movie, does it deserve an award? No. Is it a good film to watch with friends if you have nothing else going on? Heck yeah. If you're a fan of comedies, I’d recommend this one.