Directed by: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Written by: Mark Perez
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris
Never judging a book by its cover stands as a wise common saying but you just cannot help it in the case of certain movies and genres. Whether it be past experiences dictating prediction of enjoyment or the presentation of the marketing, it becomes difficult not to look at something and potentially pre-judge if you’ll like it or not. Game Night became one of those instances where I was undoubtedly wrong about my preconceived notion and I’m so glad its ridiculous humor knocked me out of my seat.
Gathering for a routine game night finds a competitive couple Annie (Rachel McAdams), Max (Jason Bateman), and their friends in a new kind of game led by the latter’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). A game where one of them will be kidnapped and the winning couple will receive a grand prize. However, this game gets mixed up with another actual kidnapping, which begins to bend reality and the game.
Big studio comedies have the same feeling to them in their storytelling and look to the point where most of them tend to be forgettable. You get the few chuckles that come with the jokes but in the end, I could easily forget everything about them. Several signs pointed towards Game Night having the same impact, but the wondrous surprise found in its design and screenplay leaves a very different impression. Obviously taking inspiration from David Fincher’s The Game with its various twists and turns, this feature truly has it all and each subsequent rewatch solidifies its brilliance.
At the center of the story lies the relationship between a husband and wife, as they try to balance being competitive with the dreams of becoming parents. A reason for their lack of conception comes from the stress Max is experiencing from his brother’s imminent arrival. A brother who seemingly is his superior in every way, from physically to intellectually. Annie even makes a joke about the brother needing to compensate for something when Max clarifies that his brother’s penis is actually fairly large. This trio guides most of the emotional stakes of the story but the supporting cast cannot and will not be ignored.
Billy Magnussen arrived on this Earth to create laughs and my goodness he absolutely shines in this role. With the character many actors have tried to master, the dumb but lovable hunk, he manages to perfect it with incredible ease. The combination of his facial expressions and the way he manages to deliver all of his lines ensure he never misses when trying to get the audience to laugh. He pairs exceptionally well with Sharon Horgan portraying his date. Their rapport allows moments where we step away from the main trio to be energetic and help create a strong balance. Also, Jesse Plemmons knocks it out of the park in portraying the very serious yet lovable neighbor simply wanting to join in the game night shenanigans. Every scene with him is absolutely golden.
However, the star of this show, without question, is Rachel McAdams. For someone who has shined as the iconic Regina George in Mean Girls, her comedic skills continue to go underappreciated, unfortunately. The work she does as Annie is otherworldly and the mark of a true comedic genius in every sense of the word. Part of it certainly comes together in her commitment to this role but the line delivery she brings is laugh-out-loud funny each and every single time. From the “Yes! Oh no, he died” to the bar sequence and bullet removal scene displays a comedic actor just owning everything the genre has to offer. I found myself in awe of what she managed to do with what is not a complex character and make her an undeniable knockout. She puts everyone else to shame.
Along with the stunning comedic performances, what makes Game Night stick out is the way it’s filmed. As mentioned earlier, many studio comedies come with the same lighting with no care for cinematography but this film looks genuinely slick. It comes with the design and visuals of a cinematic lens of this story. Yes, it’s primarily a comedy but the look and feel are similar to the inspirations it takes from other features like The Game. Dark and broody in its atmosphere to capture the danger these characters have found themselves him but combining it with cramp-inducing laughs makes it such a delightful combination. It only gets better with every rewatch, which there have been many with me and my wife.
With plenty of callbacks that would make any cinephile state “I understood that reference” Game Night is an absolute knockout. One where I had low expectations heading into it and was gladly proven wrong. This story comes with a real vision in capturing the comedy and seriousness happening around these naive characters. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein create something special and long-lasting in their approach to this feature and reinstated faith in the type of comedy genius that could be made within the studio system.