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One of the worst parts about comedy as a genre, is that due to the changing of the times with every decade, comedies age faster than most genres, maybe outside of romance films. Some people will argue that political correctness is killing comedy because people are too sensitive. I 100% disagree, because that’s simply not the case. What is killing comedy are directors and writers doing things like letting actors improv too long, not telling actors to stop going off script, doing shock humor for shock sake, and not having a point to their humor. Why do you think people still watch films like Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Animal House, Back to School, The Great Outdoors, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Producers, Space Balls, and so on? It’s because while having some elements that probably don’t hold up as well all the way through, they had great writing and characters. People laughed because they made fantastic jokes. This is why comedies from 2018 have been rather impressive, because they focus on what makes good comedies. This is why this review will be of the underrated Game Night, directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.
The story focuses on a competitive couple named Max and Annie Davis, played by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams. They are trying to have children, but Max is having trouble due to stress and the upcoming visit from his brother Brooks Davis, played by Kyle Chandler. Sadly for Max, that visit happens on one of their famous Game Nights that the couple has with their friends Ryan, played by Billy Magnussen, and Kevin and his wife Michelle, played by Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury. Unfortunately for Max, Brooks decides to offer the idea that he will host the next game night. A week later, Max, Annie, Kevin, Michelle, Ryan, and Ryan’s co-worker Sarah, played by Sharon Horgan, go to Brook’s house that he’s renting for his visit, and find out that they are going to be doing a murder mystery game. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the game turns out to not be a game, and Brooks is kidnapped, and it’s up to Max, Annie, and their friends to try and get Brooks back and find out what the heck happened, and what is going on!
The strength of this film is definitely in its writing and characters. Instead of letting actors improv their lines, the directors and writers gave the actors actual characters and personalities. When you have a large group of characters who have to all be in the same scene, you have to make that work, and we have seen line-o-rama destroy that with scenes going on too long, talented people thinking they can improv, and the director not telling them to stop or to cut that scene. Luckily, Game Night is focused, and you enjoy the characters’ comradery when they are separated and together. You can tell what kind of person everyone is by their mannerisms, dialogue, and actions. Gee, when you have a focused goal and identity, it sure seems to make for a much better comedy than say, Holmes and Watson, Sisters, or Wine Country. Not only is the comedy really funny in this film, it does not focus on too many of the lazy tropes you find in comedy films like pop culture references, “hip” lingo, and so on. They had good jokes that were funny, because, well, they were funny.
On top of the great comedy in the movie, the film looks good! Another major problem with comedies is that when they have low budgets, or lackluster teams working on them, the lighting and set-up can make everything look too made-for-TV or look like a Netflix film release. It’s a major problem with a lot of Tyler Perry films and comedies like Night School. Luckily, the cinematography and the locations they go to look like there was some elbow grease put into them. They even have shots and locations set up that look like model landscapes or board pieces, which gives the film a nice touch and a pinch of personality. It might be a comedy, but it’s a comedy that’s shot like a crime thriller. It’s funny, but it’s also exciting and intense to watch the gang put the puzzle pieces together and try to figure out the overall plan. It has very entertaining action set pieces that also helps bring more to the table than other comedies.
Of course, a good comedy wouldn’t be successful, if the cast didn’t work. You have Jason Bateman, who already had a stacked resume with Zootopia, Arrested Development, and Ozark, and it was nice to see Rachel McAdams get a good boost from the disaster that was True Detective Season 2. The entire cast is good, but special mention has to go to Jesse “I’m going to be in everything you love” Plemons as Max and Annie’s neighbor Gary. He steals every scene that he is in, and always got the biggest laughs whenever he was used in the story. It just shows how versatile of an actor he is.
Now, no movie is perfect, and while I loved Game Night, I have a few complaints about it. I found the main antagonist to be pretty dull. He’s a generic British bad guy, and I wish he was written to be funnier. I also found that when everyone was separated, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury had the weakest story arc together. They had a few good lines and sequences, but their subplot was the weakest of the couples in the film. I also wish the finale had the others involved. It just cuts to Jason and Rachel’s character doing the last bit, and while it is fun to watch them work together to get Chandler from the grasps of the villain, it would have been fun to see what the others would have done to help.
Even with those complaints, Game Night is probably the best comedy of 2018, and while that year also had The Death of Stalin, Blockers, and films with comedic elements like The Favourite and Upgrade, Game Night is still the one that I enjoyed the most. It’s funny, well-written, entertaining, timeless, and it’s one of the few comedies that I bought on Blu-ray, and I don’t really do it that often. Game Night was a lot of fun, and I would be glad to come back to the next Game Night and say Play it again!