Nico’s Movie Review: ‘Game Night’ Is Funny And Surprisingly Artful
Much like when I reviewed Just Getting Started back in November, I hadn't been planning on seeing Game Night; I was going to review Annihilation, but due to logistical reasons I sat my butt down in the theater to see the latest from Jason Bateman and hoped it was at least decent.
That's not to say I was scared of Game Night, because I really thought the trailer was funny and I have a sort of man-crush on Bateman so it's always fun to see him on screen. It's just that I don't have a lot of confidence in R-rated comedies anymore.
However, Game Night surprised me and definitely made me feel like I got my money's worth.
The film begins by introducing us to our two main characters; Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, respectively). The two have been married for some time, and are attracted to each other for one main reason; they are both hyper competitive, and love to play games of all kinds. In fact, the highlight of their week seems to be the titular Game Night, where their friends come over and play charades or Pictionary.
The plot begins to move as Max's brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town; Brooks is the very rich and successful older brother, who Max obviously has a deep sibling rivalry with. Brooks decides that he's going to spice up game night for everyone else, by hiring a company that does those murder mystery experiences. Things turn sour, however, when Brooks actually gets kidnapped for real during the game (by the way, that's not a spoiler, it's laid out right in the trailer). That leaves Max and Annie, along with their friends Ryan, Sarah, Kevin, and Michelle, to figure out the situation.
That main conceit is where a lot of the laughs in Game Night come from. Since the characters and the audience can't be sure of what is real and what is just a game, it sets up a ton of great surprise jokes and visual gags. Surprisingly, I didn't find this getting old, and I really enjoyed the twisting and turning this part of the plot takes.
While I'm on the subject though, I will get my main problem with this film out of the way, which is definitely the plot. Not so much the main plot, but more the side stories; I don't care that Max and Annie are trying to conceive, for example, or that Ryan (played by Billy Magnussen) is trying to come to terms with settling down from his playboy lifestyle. It seems pointless and it doesn't add much comedy, so in my opinion it could have been excised.
However, there is one subplot that I absolutely loved; Kevin (Lamorne Morris) is trying to figure out which celebrity his wife Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) slept with many years ago, a fact she accidentally revealed during a game of "Never Have I Ever" early on. It's a running gag that has a fantastic payoff, and I appreciate that type of comedy.
Speaking of types of comedy, I was impressed with the sense of comedic timing Game Night has. It really knows how to punctuate a punchline, and utilize slapstick-esque bits in a way that catches you off guard. I definitely found myself laughing out loud.
And not to moralize or anything, but I appreciated how relatively classy this film kept its comedy. Now, it is an R-rated film, so there is plenty of F and S bombs, and one or two sexually explicit discussions for laughs. But unlike so many of its peers, Game Night avoids fart jokes, or showing anyone's crotch, or generally just mean-spirited jokes. The one exception to that last point is the cop character, Gary (played by Jesse Plemons). Maybe I'm just being sensitive, but the whole joke around Gary is that "he's weird and doesn't fit in", and I feel like that's not the best way to get your laughs. However, this is a mild complaint, that they fix somewhat by the end of the film.
Far and away what surprised me the most about Game Night, though, was how clever and well-done the visuals and sound were done. Crazily enough, the cinematographer on this movie is the same guy who did Just Getting Started (Barry Peterson), and I don't remember that film being this interesting visually! This movie features creative techniques all over the place, the most impressive of which was the use of tilt-shift in overhead shots to make cars and people feel like they were pieces on a game board.
The soundtracks for movies like this are usually throwaway, but I had fun with this one. It features a synthwave style a-la films from the 1980's like Blade Runner, and was actually composed by the man behind the soundtracks for Drive and The Neon Demon, so I'm not surprised it's so good. It definitely adds a certain air to the whole experience that I appreciate.
Overall, Game Night isn't great, and while it's funny I feel like it won't be as funny upon rewatching, since many of its laughs rely on the unexpected. But it truly is a breath of fresh air in a world where adult comedy films seem to be getting worse and worse.
I enjoyed it, and I'd recommend it to those who don't mind a little darkness in their humor. See the trailer below.