Game Night is a movie for sure. It absolutely has actors in it, and you can absolutely watch it. And it doesn’t hurt to watch it! Is it a productive use of your time? Probably not. But is anything a productive use of your time? Is reading this review productive? What are you planning on doing after you read this. Probably nothing “productive.” Is productivity really all that important, or is the value we imbue on “productivity” misplaced? I think yes, probably. Maybe not. I’m sure you can make an argument for either side of that.
Game Night follows Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a hyper-competitive, game obsessed couple that wants to have a baby. But their doctor says they can’t conceive because Max is too stressed from all the game playing. This problem is exacerbated when Max’s more successful brother comes to town, and insists on playing an elaborate experiential game that includes a staged kidnapping. Then actual kidnappers come. Hijinks ensue.
I don’t want to waste too much time explaining how pointless the movie is. They wring out a theme about what “winning” and “success” really means. It’s pretty standard stuff, that’s elevated, as mediocre movies often are, by it’s talented cast. Jason Bateman is, I think, an underrated actor. I haven’t seen him in anything in a while, and I never thought much of him, but his matter-of-fact, almost naturalistic delivery is really great. He’s made a career out of playing the straight-man, and for good reason. Rachel McAdams is also super funny. I don’t think I’ve seen her in a comedy since Mean Girls. She should be in more comedies, because she shines in this in a way she absolutely does not in movies like Doctor Strange and Sherlock Holmes. The most interesting part of the film was Gary, Max and Annie’s strange cop neighbor played by Jesse Plemons. He’s a stern police officer (in uniform at all hours) who was once a regular at their weekly game nights, until his wife left him (she was the one Annie and Max actually liked). Now he ominously questions Annie and Max about their evening plans, concerned he’s being excluded. They are indeed blowing him off, and it’s understandable. He’s supremely off-putting. They liked his wife, but with her out of the picture they have no reason to subject themselves to this needy man’s company. But his aggressive, bordering-on threatening methods come from a place of genuine pain. He just wants some friends. This character is the source of the best comedy and drama in the whole film, and I wish more time had been devoted to him. Instead the runtime is filled with the other game night attendee’s B-plots.
The worst of these B-plots is that of Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his date Sarah (Sharon Horgan). It’s an odd couple romance thing. Ryan embodies what I’ve recently realized is one of my least favorite comedy tropes: a character who is just dumb. That’s the whole joke. He’s really, really stupid. It’s in every sitcom, and of course it can be done well and some great characters fall into this trope. But it’s a very easy joke template. Just make a dumb character and you can just slot the jokes in. Gary is a character with genuine wants and desires, whose personality flaws obstruct his ability to achieve his goals, and great comedy flows organically from that. Ryan just says dumb shit, and everyone reacts to him like, “Oooooooh Ryan, so dumb!”
My brain may already be erasing my memory of the film, overwriting it with more pertinent information like, “Will the sushi I ordered for dinner tonight be good or will I regret not going with chicken lo mein?” and “is it essential I undo the super tight knot in my shoelace, or can I just leave it and let it get tighter and tighter until I eventually just get new shoes?” But when I was sitting in the theater, watching the movie, I didn’t hate myself. I laughed a few times, sometimes at the film’s expense, but mostly genuinely at film’s jokes. Had it not been for budding corporate overlord Mitche Lowe (CEO of MoviePass) and his data-mining, market manipulating tendencies, and if Isle of Dogs had been playing at any of the theaters local to Fairfield, Connecticut, I probably would not have taken time to see Game Night. That said, it was a fine way to pass a Saturday morning.
I give Game Night 5 Jasons out of 10 Batemans.