There are few things better watching a film than being pleasantly surprised. When there is a film where all of the marketing for it has made it look pretty bad but it turns out to be good, it comes as a great relief and makes the experience of watching the film more powerful. That is the case for me with Game Night. The marketing for the film made it look like a film I would find annoying so I originally didn’t have plans to see it. Then the reviews started coming out and they were mostly positive and this, plus the announcement that directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were chosen to direct Flashpoint (which is increasingly looking like it will be a soft reboot of the DCEU) made me more interested, so I decided to give it a chance and I’m glad I did. This is a great comedy and such a good surprise.
The film focuses on married couple Max and Annie who regularly host a game night for their friends round their house. One week, Max’s brother Brooks comes into town and has a new idea for the game night, a murder mystery game where one of the group would be taken by a group of actors and it would be up to the rest of the group to find them, with the group not knowing what was real or scripted. However, before the game can start Brooks actually gets kidnapped, the others not believing it due to what Brooks told them about the game. Over the course of the film though, the group find out that the game is real and have to work to rescue Brooks. Now the hard thing about reviewing a good comedy is that you don’t want to reveal too much in order to avoid spoiling the jokes and in this case that is especially difficult due to the nature of the film. You see Game Night is a pretty dark comedy going into a whole bunch of dark areas and the jokes in the film work due to how absurd the events in the film get and the reactions of the characters to the events. The twists and turns in the plot help to make the jokes work and revealing too much about the plot would also reveal too much about the jokes. What I will say is that there are some great character moments related to Max, Annie and Brooks. Firstly, it is a pleasure to see a film like this where the main couple are in a happy relationship. It would have been easy for Max and Annie to be constantly bickering throughout the film but they are very supportive of each other and the tensions in their relationship that we do see are believable for the characters. In a similar way, the sibling rivalry between Max and Brooks feels real and the change in their relationship over the course of the film helps give the film some strong emotional moments.
In a comedy like this though, if the cast isn’t solid then it would fall apart and thankfully the cast here is excellent. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie have great chemistry with each other, showing the competitive streaks in them that connected them to each other, the comedic timing that each of them has allows them to bounce off each other brilliantly, creating some of the best jokes in the film, with the same being true of the reactions they have to the events throughout the film. Kyle Chandler as Brooks meanwhile shows off how insufferable the character is brilliantly, along with his low morals and willingness to lie and cheat to get his way. He is a pretty despicable character but there is a charm that Chandler brings to the role that lets you understand why others would like him, and also why there is the rivalry between him and Brooks. We also get a scene stealing performance from Jesse Plemons as Gary, Max and Annie’s neighbour who they don’t allow in the game night, Plemons having this very creepy air to him that lets you know why the others don’t let him in the night and his delivery and movement throughout the film create some great awkward comedy moments. Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunburry as Kevin and Michelle, friends of Max and Annie, also get some great comedic moments throughout the film through the way their relationship develops and again with their reactions to the events, whilst Billy Magnussen as Ryan, another one of the friends, gets some of the best laughs in the film through his brilliant portrayal of a complete idiot. The only real complaint I have about the cast is that I wish Sharon Horgan was given more to work with, as is proven in Catastrophe, Horgan is an excellent comedic presence and she should have been given more to work with.
The technical side of the film is also solid. The location work and music is what you’d expect for this type of film but there are some great pieces of editing and cinematography. Firstly, it may just be me, but there was a feel of toy models in some of the establishing shots in the film, giving the film a greater feel of being a game. Then there are some great pieces of camera movement throughout the film, giving a great sense of speed and flow to the comedy throughout the film, in particular a set piece in the third act of the film which is presented as one take, the editing doing a great job at hiding the cuts.
Overall, it’s a shame I can’t say much more about why Game Night works but doing so would spoil the jokes and make the experience of watching the film weaker. There are some issues with the film, as I mentioned Sharon Horgan is wasted, along with it feeling a bit too long, but the overall pacing of the film is strong, the plot takes some great directions throughout and the cast is excellent, helping to give the jokes their power and making the film such a fun experience. This was a very pleasant surprise for me and, based on this, there is some hope that John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein will successfully use Flashpoint to reboot the DCEU successfully.
My Rating: 4.5/5