Game Night: At last, a screwball comedy that actually works
All the cast are funny in this mad murder mystery, but Sharon Horgan is funniest
Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan in Game Night
Game on: Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in Game Night
Film Title: Game Night
Director: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Michael C Hall
Running Time: 100 min
Semi-amusing studio comedies are now so rare that, when a properly funny one arrives, the temptation to have it stuffed and mounted feels overwhelming. Aside from anything else, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein are to be congratulated for following up Vacation – their hilarious, unfairly derided updating of National Lampoon’s Vacation – with a critical hit that shows I was right about them all along. So there.
Game Night concerns Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams), insanely competitive yuppies who devote their free evenings to the playing of Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and other exercises in mid-brain one-upmanship. At one such event, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), Max’s high-achieving brother, arrives and offers to host an annoying staged murder mystery party. The night arrives and, after dips are served, two men burst in, beat the heck out of Max and drag him off to an uncertain fate. “That was really convincing,” they all laugh. Don’t worry. You’re expected to be way ahead of the reveal.
Almost everything in Game Night is better than it needed to be. Bateman and McAdams bounce lines off one another with the energy of championship squash players. Daley and Goldstein indulge themselves in a surprising array of successful directorial flourishes. We eventually learn why establishing shots of the exteriors employ scale models populated by tiny plastic figures. A complex, lengthy take heightens the slapstick in a chaotic late sequence. They have endless fun emphasising the sinister attention of Jesse Plemons’s weird neighbour (an MVP if ever there was one) by pulling in slowly and dropping out of focus.
All this is in service of the closest thing we have seen in recent years to a successful exercise in high screwball. The trick, as always, is to keep the dialogue so sharp and the relationships so cleanly defined that nobody bothers to question the increasingly preposterous plot turns.
All involved satisfy their duties enthusiastically, none more so than Sharon Horgan as a smart woman invited to Game Night by a raving idiot. I’m betting Sharon came up with the running joke about everyone assuming she’s British especially for us.
“Actually, I’m Irish.”
“It’s the same.”
“It’s really not.”
It needed to be said.