Like last year’s supremely entertaining Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Game Night is a movie that works much, much better than you’d expect. The plot is about as high concept as you can get – a murder mystery game takes a left turn when a real crime occurs. Luckily, writer Mark Perez didn’t stop there. The film ricochets along, leaping from plot twist to plot twist with manic glee. The cast is uniformly (ahem) game, and the directors, John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks!) and Jonathan Goldstein utilize a surprising amount of visual flair.
The moment the film first used tilt-shift focus I knew we were in good hands. I last saw tilt-shift used in The Social Network during the Henley Royal Regatta race, and was stunned by how unusual it looked. It’s a camera technique that somehow gives the illusion that we are looking at everything in miniature. In The Social Network I can’t think of any reason for using it other than looking cool, but in Game Night, it beautifully creates the feeling of watching game pieces move around a board. This is not the kind of thought that usually goes into movies like this.
The (AHEM) players are, as previously mentioned, 100% on board for this film’s very specific tone. It’s a dark comedy that isn’t afraid of getting dark, but somehow it always finds a way to pull up before things get nasty. Take, for example, a particularly hilarious scene where Rachel McAdams’ character performs impromptu surgery on her husband, played by Jason Bateman. There’s a bullet lodged in his arm (how it got there is too funny to spoil), and, after some quick Googling she makes a “small incision” over the bullet hole. Except it’s not small. It’s also not big enough to be unrealistic; it’s the kind of mistake a nervous person might genuinely make. Instead of being mad, however, Jason Bateman remains completely supportive of his wife’s attempts to heal him. It’s a surprisingly sweet moment that stems from something that could have gotten pretty rough.
My favourite cast member is Jesse Plemons who plays a police officer who really wants to be a part of game night. His character is certainly the most exaggerated in the movie, and Perez wisely ensures he doesn’t overstay his welcome. Kyle Chandler has a great time playing against type as Jason Bateman’s much more successful brother and Billy Magnussen is the nice version of his terrifying character from Ingrid Goes West. Lamorne Morris of New Girl fame, and Kylie Bunbury share the movie’s funniest scene, involving her confessing who she slept with while they were on a break. Stick around until after the credits are over for the resolution to that inspired bit of business. Sharon Horgan rounds out the cast as Billy Magnussen’s game night date, and their will-they/won’t-they dynamic is quite delightful. If you’re wondering why Sharon Horgan’s voice sounds so familiar, she played Courtney Portnoy, the formerly portly consort in the seaport resort, on BoJack Horseman.
This movie won’t change your life, and the general lightness of the proceedings prevent the stakes from ever feeling that high, but I don’t think there’s a movie playing in theatres right now that’s as much damn fun as Game Night. Except maybe Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – wait that movie’s STILL in theatres? Wow. Well done, Jumanji, well done.