Game Night (****) is great in how good it is

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Game Night – 2018

Directors John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Screenplay Mark Perez
Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler, Danny Huston, Chelsi Peretti
There are so few good comedies these days, it’s amazing when one puts it all together. Daley and Goldstein wrote two films for Bateman prior to now that were okay, but nowhere near memorable. The last film I saw that Daley and Goldstein directed, the Vacation remake, was no better. The Spider-Man Homecoming film turned a corner, as far as writing goes. This film turns the corner for their ability to direct.

Game Night is an irresistible comedy where the cast is as likable as the script they use to weave their way into the fabric of our culture. There are many things you’ve seen before in this film, which is a comedic version of Fincher’s The Game. The pace is just right, though, and the each slightly dark turn the film takes feels like a winner.

Bateman and McAdams play a young couple, Max and Annie, who have thrived on the competition of games throughout their young married life, but now they want to start a family. They have issues with fertility which center around Max’s relationship with his brother, Brooks (Chandler). Brooks seems to have everything, including looks and he’s coming back to town. His version of game night involves a mystery that gets out of hand, making it memorable and quite possibly life threatening.

Bateman, as ever is more of the straight man. He has several good moments and is reliable as one who can provide the comic line with the irony required for us to put ourselves right there with him.

McAdams benefits from this. She usually has to play it straight, but if anyone noticed, she was the best thing about Mean Girls when she played the titular anti-hero. There are many short moments that she gets to run with here and she is quite the comedic quarter horse. It would be nice to see if she can translate this into a nice run of good comedies.

The supporting cast is even more remarkable. The best part of the film is watching the development of the other couples. Kevin and Michelle (Morris and Bunbury) are trying to play the game fairly while working out some issues on who they were with during a brief hiatus before they got married. The ensuing debate is not only funny, but endearing.

Equally entertaining is the burgeoning relationship between Ryan and Sarah (Magnussen and Horan). Ryan’s usually horndogging ways give way to bringing in a “ringer” English woman from his office. Only, she’s Irish, not English. And she’s not real crazy about Ryan either. Don’t worry, though. It’ll all work out.

Perhaps the best character in the film is Plemmons’ Gary Kingsbury, a creepy neighbor who yearns to be part of the games that he lost access to after his wife left him. That he is a policeman only adds to his strange repertoire. His performance is funny and ghoulish at once.

Chandler has had a thankless career as a guy many people like but few completely remember. He makes some inroads in the memorability department with his role as the asshole brother. He’s allowed to move beyond the role of stable guy.

All of these performances are connected by a great script, by Perez. If you looked at his resume, you’d be surprised. His honors include being a graduate of the Disney school of scriptwriting, which propelled him to the heights of Herbie Fully Loaded and The Country Bears. Then nothing for a long time…until Daley and Goldstein worked on this script. Not exactly the combination one might expect for a winner, but whatever it takes.
It’s early in the year, but so far, this is the best comedy. I haven’t laughed at  a film considered a comedy in several years. Let’s hope this is the start of a trend.
(**** out of *****)

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