At first, Game Night might look like your usual dose of raunch-com absurdity. You have a group of adults who think they’re a part of an intense role-playing scenario, only for this faux kidnapping setup to turn into a real crime. Of course, the participants think it’s all part of the game and go along with what ends up being an increasingly dangerous chain of events.
It sounds contrived but Game Night is a movie that knows exactly what it is. There is a conscious decision on the film’s part to both play its expected strengths while also subverting expectations along the way.
And that leads to a comedy that’s pretty damn great.
Sneaking Style Into Simplicity
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein — the duo that’s tapped to direct the upcoming Flashpoint film for the DC Extended Universe — take what could be a straightforward comedy and inject a ton of style and action into the premise. There are multiple shots in Game Night that utilize tilt-shift photography in order to give a scene the appearance of a game board. It’s a welcome bit of flair to a flick that could have been shot as boilerplate as possible.
And the visual tricks don’t stop there. Daley and Goldstein crib from multiple influences such as Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) to help keep the movie feeling propulsive and energetic. One action sequence simulates a single take and pulls it off well enough that the edits don’t ever jump out at you. Add to this little transitions between scenes that have some punch to them and it makes Game Night feel much hipper than it probably should.
Succeeds at More Than Jokes
Part of that success also has to do with Game Night not resting on its comedy laurels. There is a satisfying mystery driving the plot that keeps you engaged throughout the running time. Fans of films like The Game will see that Daley and Goldstein are clearly lovers of cinema, and it’s nice to know that they aren’t approaching this movie with a sense of lessness. They want to make the best possible film out of Game Night that they can.
It’s also bolstered by characters that are genuinely relatable. Granted, the ensemble does feel a little one-note at times but never to a point where they don’t feel necessary to the story. There is a lot of focus on each character getting some kind of arc. For a goofball comedy, that’s commendable.
And though the drama of the story does taper out by the film’s climax, the road along the way is filled with great escalations of conflict and challenging obstacles for the group to overcome. That’s not usually the case in these kinds of comedies. Kudos to screenwriter Mark Perez for keeping the audience invested and throwing curveballs at every turn.
Plenty of Laughs
But, the main question that people have with a comedy is: will it make me laugh? Game Night is a very funny film that manages an incredible balance between shock humor, dark comedy, and crowd-pleasing silliness. Everyone in the ensemble has their moment to shine, but it is Jesse Plemons who steals the show as the next door neighbor, Gary.
Gary is a police officer who doesn’t get invited to the group’s game nights ever since his wife left him. Plemons plays Gary with unbearable creepiness and it’s hilarious. There are shots that feel like Plemons was secretly auditioning for the role of Michael Myers. Every moment he’s on-screen is hysterical. The movie is worth it just for him.
And while your mileage will vary when it comes to the levels of ridiculousness the movie engages in, it never teeters into groan-inducing stupidity, clichéd lowbrow gags, or obvious and annoying improv riffs. Again, the amount of balance the film showcases is impressive.
Is Game Night Good?
Yeah! It looked like another run-of-the-mill R-rated comedy but it ended up providing a bunch of laughs and a surprising amount of filmmaking panache. The core drama of the film doesn’t quite knock it out of the park but it’s perfectly pleasant and doesn’t take away from everything else the movie does so well.
Game Night is a lot better than most movies of its ilk. Don’t skip out on this one if you thought it looked like just another comedy flick. It’s a fun time.
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast at his website, The Drew Reviews. He’ll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him.
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