Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemon
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Sometimes as filmgoers, we are given films that are “for our consideration”, but some films come with no aspirations above an hour or two of simple pleasure. John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein bring us a comedy of these simple, enjoyable pleasures.
Game fanatics Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a couple considering starting a family, but their usual game night fun changes when Bateman’s older more successful brother Kyle Chandler comes to town and hosts a murder mystery night that goes awry. Very quickly, things go from bad to worse for the couple and their friends.
Game Night is nothing new or revolutionary, but the cast are all there to do their thing, and bag some laughs along the way. Bateman is his usual deadpan self, delivering lines with the casual humour that has made him his name. He hasn’t been this enjoyably deadpan in a long time, and this calls to mind his work in Arrested Development. Here, he’s the over competitive type, thrown into the situation that is out of his control. It helps that he shares most of his scenes with Rachel McAdams, who revels in her character of someone oblivious to the danger under her nose. McAdams nabs the biggest laugh of the film with her winning delivery of “yes… oh no he died”.
Around them is a smattering of actors who show up strong, and generally do the thing for which they are known. Kyle Chandler relishes in his arrogant role as Bateman’s older brother, being that dickhead overachiever, but on the right side of likeable. Other actors playing the game bring big laughs as well; Billy Magnussen is the overgrown manchild, renowned for only dating bimbos, and manages to make the arc of falling in love with Sharon Horgan, playing a reprise of her Catastrophe character, all the more endearing. The recurring gag about Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury as a pair of childhood sweethearts who discover a moment of unfaithfulness create many sparky moments of fun.
The supporting players around them do brilliantly as well. While the usual big comedy vehicle cameos don’t always land as well as they should – Danny Huston is wasted, so is Jeffrey Wright, but these performances are in contrast with the likes of Chelsea Peretti, who manages to wring the most from her small role. The stand out is Jesse Plemons, essentially reprising his recent role from Black Mirror by playing the sinister neighbour who longs to be included.
Not all the jokes land, but there’s a heavy dose of them coming at you, with some of the pop culture references being funnier than others. McAdams arrogant version of the diner scene from Pulp Fiction is funny, Jason Bateman then referencing the film directly after it isn’t. However, the chance of getting all the dialogue jokes is hard on one viewing. Even the action is enjoyable enough with a central set piece set in a mansion as the group throw a priceless egg from one to another as goons chance them that is done in what appears to be one shot being a particular joy to watch.
By the end the plot might fall into one too many twists and “it’s not over, yet” style tricks upon tricks, but even as that happens the dafty farcical nature of the film doesn’t let up, making sure that jokes comes full circle. Even as that happens the film is self-assured enough to look at it with one telling line “this is some full circle shit”.
Like all good games nights, it should be enjoyed with friends, perhaps a bottle of wine, and enough good will to carry you through to the final gag. It’s a comedy that piles the laughs on twists, action and enough crude humour like “How do you know about heat difference? Did you fuck Bill Nye the Science Guy?” to make you want to watch the film again.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.