Game Night | John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein | February 23, 2018
What do you get when you cross the growing popularity of tabletop game nights, David Fincher’s The Game, and a sibling rivalry comedy? The answer’s pretty simple: Game Night. And while that all may sound like an odd combination, it comes together much better than you’d expect it would from the trailers and TV spots.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meet-cute at a bar trivia night and strike up a whirlwind game-fueled relationship montage, leading to marriage, all underscored by Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (another good use of the song – besides Shaun of the Dead, of course). Several years later, they’re holding weekly game nights with high school sweethearts Michelle (Pitch‘s Kylie Bunbury) and Kevin (New Girl‘s Lamorne Morris) and third-wheel Ryan (American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson‘s Billy Magnussen) and whoever his weekly date is, having quietly excommunicated slightly creepy next-door neighbor/cop/recent divorcee Gary (Jesse Plemons).
They’re joined one week by Max’s older and cooler venture capitalist brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), which reignites their simmering sibling rivalry – an undercurrent of the film, as it’s thought to be a cause of stress and fertility issues for Max. Brooks invites them all over to his rented house for the next game night, and ropes them into a real-world kidnapping game they’ll never forget. However, the introduction by faux-FBI Agent Henderson (Jeffrey Wright) is interrupted by two men who kidnap Brooks, despite his struggle throughout the house and pleas to the snacking party members for help. The five regulars and Ryan’s new date Sarah (Catastrophe‘s Sharon Horgan) start playing the game, only to realize – one competitive and sometimes clueless duo at a time – that there’s more afoot than a simple immersive real-world kidnapping game.
Right off the bat, Game Night feels both familiar and fresh. The opening logos and credits mimic well-known board game pieces (Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly), and this playful aspect continues through the film with the creative incorporation of tilt-shift photography, faux-miniatures, clever camera positioning that calls to mind game pieces on a board, and a very well-shot one-take McMansion chase sequence (maybe with some editing trickery), all thanks to cinematographer Barry Peterson (who previously worked co-directors and Spider-Man: Homecoming co-writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein on Vacation). Cliff Martinez’s very fitting 8-bit/16-big video game-like score with dark undertones adds to this. The cast has believable rapport, thanks to Mark Perez’s self-aware pop culture-dabbled script – even with a few mildly cringe-y Trump-era nods. McAdams has a blast, Plemons steals the show with his needy deadpan delivery, and Morris, Bunbury, Magnussen, and Horgan all shine in their respective roles. They’re also helped by glorified cameos from the aforementioned Wright, as well as Brooklyn 99‘s Chelsea Peretti, Danny Huston, and Michael C. Hall.
However, there’s a bit lacking in the way of character depth and setting. Yes, each character has their respective relationship conflicts, but given the ages of the cast, how they all know each other falls by the wayside. Bateman and McAdams are 49 and 40, Morris and Bunbury are 34 and 29, and Magnussen and Horgan are 33 and 48. There’s a brief mention about Ryan working at a mall (how he tends to meet his dates), but the disparate ages overall (even though the main cast could play early 40s) left me questioning the professional lives of this little middle-class group. Additionally, there’s no clear setting. It’s definitely a metropolitan area, given the skyscrapers, nearby suburban neighborhood, and private airport that factors into the final act of the film. Maybe it’s the Atlanta area (where the film was shot), but there’s no explicit city mention.
Despite not being one for many modern comedies, I found Game Night to be an overall refreshing and funny crowd-pleaser. The mildly raunchy middle-aged humor was fitting (with little scatological humor, thankfully), the cast played well off each other, and there was some creative and also fitting cinematography. There’s plenty to enjoy with this welcome late February release, and hopefully a sign of more good comedies to come from Daley, Goldstein, and Perez.