The trailer for Game Night popped up while I was rabbit-holing through YouTube and it was one of those ads that I couldn’t skip. So, like an obedient puppy, I watched it and thought, ‘That sounds interesting, I wonder when it’s out’. Google told me it would be out on Friday 2 March – the date I’m writing this post.
The last two weeks have been tough for me, both mentally and physically, and the sub-tolerable weather hasn’t helped. Nothing’s happened, I’m just susceptible to depression and had the flu – but, yeah, I felt like something to cheer me up and Alan was getting a bit blue from a weird and unstructured half-day of teaching in the snow. So, we lumbered onto a bus and made our way to the nearest cinema.
I wasn’t expecting much from Game Night, although Googling had revealed that it’s got unusually good reviews for a light escapist comedy. Even the filmmakers seem surprised by how well it’s doing. There were only six people in the cinema, including us, but that was probably because we arrived bang in the middle of a snow blizzard. Over in the States, Game Night grossed $17,000,000 in its opening weekend. That’s more than I make in a month! (Actually, it’s more than I’d make in far too many thousands of months… weep.)
One critic has described Game Night as ‘a comic spin on David Fincher’s The Game’ and I can see that. Personally, I found The Game (1997) interesting but not great – a blatant if unconscious rip-off of an Agatha Christie Parker Pyne story where an elaborately choreographed adventure goes turns into a real criminal escapade which then turns out to have been part of the elaborate choreography all along. Game Night plays whimsically with the fact that we never quite know whether we’re watching a murder mystery game or a ‘real’ crime caper playing out.
Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman star as a hugely competitive couple, Annie and Max, who host regular game nights for an array of comic stock-figure friends. When Max’s annoyingly successful brother, Brook, decides to host a game night of his own, the couple knows that he’s going to outdo them. And, sure enough, Brook announces that he has enlisted top-notch actors to play out an interactive murder mystery. These actors, he tells them, are so great that they never break character. The next thing anyone knows, armed thugs break in, fight Brook, and kidnap him as the hapless guests laugh and applaud.
While Annie, Max, and the others set about trying to find clues, three actors in masks turn up and scratch their heads at what appears to be a real-life crime scene. So, is the kidnapping real or part of a game?
I don’t want to go into the plot in great detail because part of the fun comes from watching it unfold. That said, the real fun lies in the slapstick comedy and throwaway lines. Game Night feels like a cheap comedy done expensively and every second is wonderfully rewarding. It’s so rare to find light entertainment that doesn’t feature anything problematic, but I’m delighted to say there’s no misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, or antisemitism in this film. There are just some very funny scenes. My favourite part involves Max trying the clean blood off a white dog and making it worse. Another memorable routine concerns Annie trying to perform an ad-hock operation, sterilising a knife and the wound with white wine.
Mark Perez has penned a light and consistently funny script, with excellent lines – ‘You’re a double threat,’ says Billy Magnusson’s ditzy playboy to his date, an out-of-his-league Sharon Hogan. ‘You’ve got brains and you’re British’ – and old school physical comedy – at one point, almost the entire cast chases each other around a country house, passing a Fabergé Egg like a baton. Perez is served well by slick direction from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and entertaining cameos from recognisable figures like Michael C. Hall. Jesse Plemons, who recently starred in an amazing episode of Black Mirror, plays the tragicomically needy policeman next door who can’t get over his divorce and who exacts an elaborate revenge when he isn’t invited to play.
If this summary makes the whole thing sound piecemeal and incoherent, that’s because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And this is part of the charm. Although Game Night has an easy-to-follow plot, it isn’t something to analyse or overthink. It is something to sit back and enjoy, to laugh through without splitting your sides. On the journey home, I saw a tweet along the lines of, ‘Game Night is a great reflection of a world in which fake news and real news are becoming interchangeable,’ and I just thought, ‘Ugh. No. It’s funny.’ For context, I more or less think it’s impossible to read too much into a text, and am a staunch defender of the analysis of popular culture. But not Game Night. It’s just entertainment, and it’s bloody well-played.