Review: Daley/Goldstein's Dark Comedy 'Game Night' is a Hilarious Win
by Jeremy Kirk
February 25, 2018
Board games and charades take a deadly yet funny turn in dark comedy Game Night. This kind of social gathering has become more and more popular in recent years and seems ripe with potential for a cinematic setup. Enter the directing duo of John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein, who take the premise up a notch with real-life kidnappings, real-life gangsters, and real-life dangers which all fall on the heads of the suburban characters involved. It's an obvious take for a Hollywood comedy, but the team behind Game Night utilizes the ensemble cast to the best of its abilities and never allows the twists or the humor to fall flat. Game Night ends up being a riotous time at the movies that may perhaps serve as a better evening of entertainment than actually going to a game night.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a couple whose competitive nature as individuals is made even stronger once the two become husband and wife. It seems that all of the important moments in their lives revolve around some form of competitive gaming, so it makes sense that the couple host a weekly get-together with their friends to play games and try to one-up each other in light-hearted competition. That is until Max's older, more successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), comes to town. Competition between friends and spouses is one thing, rivalry between brothers is something else entirely.
It doesn't come as a surprise when Brooks invites Max and Annie (and all of their game night friends) to his lavish home for his own brand of game night. As someone who has been competing (and winning) against his brother for years, Brooks promises this particular game night is going to be one for the books. He hires a mystery game party company to come in and take him hostage, which forces the other couples to spend the evening trying to sort out the location of where he's being held. Unfortunately, Brooks' financial dealings aren't exactly on the up-and-up, and he really is taken against his will. It comes down to Max, Annie, and their naïve-but-willing friends to figure out where Brooks has been taken and sort out what dangers of the evening are real and what is all part of the game.
Working from a screenplay by Mark Perez, Daley & Goldstein keep Game Night's pace at an absolute high, transitioning between scenes with the velocity of a midnight, action movie. The establishment of the characters moves swiftly. The setup of the night at hand moves even quicker, and, once the game (or lack thereof) fully kicks off, the movement of the film reaches near-ferocious levels of excitement. The team does a superb job, as well, of keeping the viewer guessing all the way through. Game Night goes in apparently obvious directions, but all involved keep the surprises coming, and, to the film's credit, it all feels organic and genuinely surprising. Even if the end results seem clear long before the film reaches them, it finds a way of subverting expectations.
This allows the comedy involved within to flow freely between screen and audience. Some of this involves quirky characters as you would expect to find in modern comedy, but even this aspect finds its natural groove early and never disappoints. The quirkiest of these characters is the next-door neighbor to Max and Annie, a depressed cop played by Jesse Plemons whose odd nature keeps him excluded from the couple's fun-loving game nights. This character ends up being the most interesting among the group, and, with the gifted actor bringing him to quirky life, he ends up being the star of the show.
That isn't to say Bateman and McAdams don't hold their own in their respective scenes. The two don't have the chemistry you might expect from an on-screen couple, but they still hit every comedic beat with pristine precision. Even though Bateman and McAdams are playing the straight characters to all the oddities playing out around them, the film gives them ample opportunities to shine in a humorous light, something the pair has no problem pulling off. There's a few surprising cameos, as one would expect from today's mainstream comedies, but these, too, come across more as organic character building than lazy stunt casting.
Very little about Daley & Goldstein's Game Night comes across as lazy, to be honest. The film's humor hits with absolute accuracy, and the twists and turns throughout keep the viewer guessing about which direction the next threat (or next comedic beat) is going to come from. Game Night ends up being a cornucopia of surprises that mark John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein as an up-and-coming force in the world of cinematic comedy. Whatever their next work may be, there's little denying Game Night as a definite win.