Movie Review: “Game Night”
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) have always been competitive when it comes to games and trivia. They met at a bar trivia night and the rest was history. It was love at first sight as they shouted the right answer at the same time and locked eyes with one another. All these years later, they still arrange a weekly game night with their friends. From charades and Pictionary, to trivia and Scrabble, there is no game that this couple will not strive to excel at. They are both super competitive individually and, together, they are a real force to be reckoned with.
There is only one person that Max has never beaten in a game. That person is his brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks is incredibly wealthy, incredibly successful, has Max’s dream car, and is back in town. With Brooks in town, Max is more stressed and more competitive than ever, but Brooks decides to take game night up a notch. He hires a group to stage a murder mystery party where Brooks gets kidnapped. Max, Annie, and their friends must split into teams of two, race across town, follow the clues, and find Brooks. The line between reality and fiction will be blurred, but the first team to find Brooks will win his car.
The Pros & Cons
Game Night (+8pts)
The Bad Guys (-4pts)
Max & Annie (+8pts)
Max & Annie’s Friends (-3pts)
Side Character Performances (-4pts)
Pro: Game Night (+8pts)
One of the best things about this movie is the concept of game night. I liked that these characters were so competitive about game night and I liked that they split into teams for this extreme scavenger hunt. I liked how competitive Max was and how his brother brought this competitiveness up a notch. I thought it was entertaining and was something that many people will be able to relate to. Each team had a very different approach to finding Brooks but it really felt like the race was on and that it was anyone’s game. The story ends up getting far away from simple board games but the friendly competition and intensity was consistent.
What also worked really well was the mystery behind the concept. The characters did not know what was real and what was staged, and neither did the audience. It was pretty satisfying for me to sit in the audience and play along, wondering and guessing if the whole thing were real or staged. Game Night definitely had a gimmick but it was a gimmick that worked really well. It was fun, engaging, and unpredictable. You really cannot ask for much more from the premise of a comedy movie.
Con: The Bad Guys (-4pts)
Oh, the bad guys were so dumb in this movie. Some of it made sense based on the story, but this did not apply to most of the baddies. Most of them were just bumbling idiots for no reason. They were dumb, could not get anything done, and really just useless. These were hired guns, and “professional“ criminals that were easily overmatched by a group of average civilians who thought they were playing a game.
Again, some of it made sense but most of it did not. This took away some suspense and believability. It would have been funny to see these everyday civilians Mr. Magoo-ing their way through some bad and dangerous criminals. Instead the filmmakers dumbed down the baddies which made the overall threat of the movie feel a lot less threatening.
Pro: Max & Annie (+8pts)
These two characters were the heart of this movie. Almost every other character was generic in one way or another, but Max and Annie were relatable and interesting. They are both super competitive at games, which most people can relate to (to some extent). Then they find love in each other through their common interest. Whether audiences relate to their competitive nature or not, they understand the natural attraction between these two. This makes sense on paper but Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams had enough chemistry to make it happen on screen.
The two are trying to have a baby, but it is not happening for them. This adds extra tension to these characters which is then amplified by the arrival of Brooks. So we have the natural competitiveness of these two characters, mixed with the added tension of trying to have a baby, and mixed again with the added stress of Brooks being in town. Their stress and competitiveness are at an all-time high. It was fun to watch them dealing with all of this as a couple, when so many movies would have them split up only to get back together by the end. These two have been a team since the day they met, and it was fun to watch them dealing with the madness that was taking place throughout the movie.
Con: Max & Annie’s Friends (-3pts)
It seems like the filmmakers put all their energy into developing Max and Annie. While the two main characters worked really well, their friends were severely underdeveloped and uninteresting. This was an obvious sacrifice that the filmmakers made, but the friends were weak enough that it had to be addressed. They all had their funny, entertaining moments, but they were mostly generic uninteresting. They each had potential, but the lack of focus left them feeling under utilized.
Pro: Gary (+6pts)
I thought Gary (Jesse Plemons) was absolutely excellent. This character is Max and Annie’s neighbor. He is an observant police officer who used to join Max and Annie (on game night) with his wife before they separated. Now it is just him and his dog alone in his house. He is extremely socially awkward, in deep depression over his divorce, and is desperate to join Max and Annie for game night again, but they think he is too weird and would kill the mood.
Jesse Plemons plays the awkwardness of this character to absolute perfection. Max and Annie are trying to hide game night from Gary, but Gary knows it is happening. It is so awkward and absolutely hilarious. Between the lifeless tone in his voice, awkward line delivery, and blank facial expressions Jesse Plemons was an absolute joy to watch and had me laughing whenever he was on screen.
Con: Side Character Performances (-4pts)
Whether it was any of the countless generic baddies or any one of Max and Annie’s friends, it seemed like there was never a scene where all actors gave decent performances. Some characters were way too over-the-top while others were just generic and forgettable. There were a few standouts. Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, and Michael C. Hall all gave life to their characters. The rest of the cast were just not very entertaining or too exaggerated to fit the tone of the movie.
If it were just one or two characters, I would blame the actors. When most of the cast struggled to find their place in their roles, the blame must fall on the director. The standouts were all experienced actors with plenty of great roles under their belts and they ended up playing characters that were similar to their previous roles. This tells me that the casting director made some great choices, but the rest of the cast received poor direction from the director.
Grade: B+ (86pts)
Game Night definitely had a few issues. Most of the supporting cast was filled with exaggerated or forgettable performances that were most likely a result of poor direction. Max and Annie’s friends were then severely underdeveloped and all of the bad guys were either dumb or clumsy, which is evident of lazy writing. Somehow a group of average, middle-aged civilians were able to overcome waves of baddies while they thought they were only playing a game. Rather than do this in creative ways, the filmmakers resorted to lazy writing to dumb down the villains.
At the end of the day, these issues were pretty minor. This was still an entertaining and very funny movie. Jesse Plemons as Gary was absolutely hilarious, while Max and Annie’s competitiveness kept the audience engaged. Jason Bateman gives his usual comedic style and all of this, mixed with the entertaining gimmick of an extreme game night, made this a very fun movie. It had it’s problems, but it was definitely entertaining.