Perhaps surprisingly, this was one of my most anticipated films of this year; when I first saw the trailer, shown during a previous cinema visit sometime last year, I thought that it looked like a real riot and made sure to look out for it when it was released in cinemas. But I’ve been misled by trailers before (they often have that annoying habit of making the film seem better/funnier than it actually is) and I of course prepared myself for the possibility that Game Night would just be an average, generic comedy rather than the hoot that it looked like in the trailer.
Having now seen the film, I’d say that the end result lands squarely in the middle as Game Night is definitely a cut above average but at the same time, it’s unlikely to be remembered for very long.
Our main characters are Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams), an ultra competitive couple who regularly throw game nights at their house with their friends in attendance. They are also trying to start a family but due to Max’s heightened stress levels, this proves to be problematic and it’s no help that his highly successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is coming to town – a brother who invites the group to his own game night, much to Max and Annie’s annoyance, and announces that one of them will be abducted during the game and that it will be up to the others to solve the puzzles, find the victim and win the game. But when Brooks is the one who gets taken, the players begin to start questioning if it’s all still a game or something more serious . . .
Game Night has an impressive cast and they all have a lot of fun with the material; Jason Bateman is comfortably in his element, nailing the deadpan one liners and physical comedy like the experienced pro that he is, and Rachel McAdams is an absolute joy as the film’s co-lead, having a whole ton of fun as the excitable and competitive Annie – she’s wonderful to watch throughout and it also helps that she and Jason Bateman have a natural, believable and very charming chemistry. The supporting cast who make up Max and Annie’s friend circle (Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamore Morris & Kylie Bunbury) are also continually fun to watch, the always reliable Kyle Chandler is believably smarmy and roguish as Max’s (apparently) more successful brother, and there are some brief but welcome appearances from Chelsea Peretti, Jeffrey Wright and Danny Huston. And the film’s MVP (well, it’s tied between him and the wonderful Rachel McAdams) is Jesse “seriously, he’s in EVERYTHING nowadays” Plemons, who makes a large impact as the creepy, clingy cop neighbour who attempts to worm his way into the couple’s game night, stealing every scene with an air of menace, unease and occasionally some laughs.
Regarding comedy value, the audience in the screening that I went to seemed to get a kick out of it all and I believe that many of Game Night‘s jokes hit their mark; there were long stretches where the film made me smile quite a bit but I didn’t find the film to be overly laugh out loud funny and the trailer gave away many of the best bits. Still, as I mentioned before, the film is a cut above your average comedy and the humour here is well intentioned and continually jovial.
Game Night has a good enough story and an undeniably fun premise that gives it a solid bedrock but it does tend to get a little out of hand as the film progresses because the filmmakers insist on using double/triple/quadruple bluffs all the time, always wrongfooting us with all the “what’s real and what’s not”, but all of this is slightly overdone and it seems as though the writers were trying too hard to be unpredictable and surprising, even adding yet another meaningless twist right at the very end. The plot elements relating to the shady businessmen, mobs and gangs also make the film a tad more convoluted than it needs to be and the plot thread concerning Max and Annie planning their future, while it does admirably attempt to provide some character development, isn’t especially interesting and is ultimately too easy to walk away from.
But the film is also cleverer than it initially appears because throughout the film, there are perhaps hidden references to popular games and we see the characters inadvertently “playing” them throughout the film – games such as Guess Who, Jenga and Operation. That’s the kind of thing you perhaps miss while watching the film, only to read about it later on IMDB trivia (which is what I did) and think “Oh, that’s clever, how did I not notice that?!”
Style-wise, the film is very effectively shot and the occasional action scenes (involving fighting and car chases etc.) are admirably directed. In keeping with the film’s gaming theme, miniatures are used for certain establishing shots and while this can be a little disconcerting at first, it becomes clear that there was a reason behind this – that our characters are simply pieces in a game – and this technique is not overused and adds to the film’s unique style.