Like the art of misdirection, comedies can hold an audience’s attention with on-point comedic timing or a well-placed moment of slapstick. It’s smoke and mirrors. While you’re laughing at a joke that played well, you might not notice (or care) how cohesive the plot is or how well the actors are well, acting. Humor, like all art and entertainment, is largely subjective, but there seems to be a sweet spot that generally appeals to a broad audience. Take the sketch Who’s On First for example – a classic Abbott and Costello skit rife with misunderstandings that’s made people laugh for decades. Or consider the long standing show America’s Funniest Home Videos – the epitome of slapstick humor that almost always involves someone doing something stupid and hurting themselves or someone else in the process.
The latest collaboration from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) seems to have found said sweet spot in Game Night. Working from a great script from writer Mark Perez (Accepted), I think Game Night is one of the best comedies in recent memory. Unlike Daley and Goldstein’s other projects which feel forced with crass humor and absurd scenarios, this film walks a delicate tightrope that still requires you to suspend reality, but with the exception of a few unnecessary moments, keeps you laughing along the way.
Game Night follows Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) and their group of friends who gather weekly for a game night. Kevin and Michelle are the high school sweethearts and Ryan is the goofy guy who can’t seem to grow up and brings a different dim-witted “flavor of the week” each time to game night. Each person brings something to the group that makes it dynamic, and ultimately funny.
When Max’s older, successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and joins game night, Max’s long-standing insecurities immediately come to the surface. It doesn’t help that Max and Annie are struggling with infertility, which is just one more way Max feels like he doesn’t measure up. Surprisingly, the film is able to deal with the couple’s struggle and weave it into the story as it unfolds in some humorous and real ways. When Brooks offers to host the following week’s game night, Max and Annie are less than thrilled to endure another night of his incessant bragging and to their chagrin Brooks wants to change things up.
In a very The Man Who Knew Too Little fashion, Brooks hires a murder mystery company to stage a kidnapping for game night, but when two real thugs show up and start beating up Brooks, the group is unphased thinking it’s all part of the game. What follows is an adventure that none of them expected. As the group slowly piece things together and learn that Brooks is really in trouble, they all find themselves in over their heads with mobsters, real weapons, and even a cameo from their creepy neighbor cop Gary (the hilarious Jesse Plemons) who has desperately been trying to get an invite to Game Night ever since his wife left him.
As you’d expect, the fact that none of them is equipped to face the dangerous situations they find themselves in is played for laughs, and for the most part it’s pretty funny to watch even though they drag some things out more than is necessary. The story is well-paced, but the second and even third act twists are a little much. Despite its flaws I found myself laughing through the entire film and was thoroughly impressed with the chemistry from the cast. Whether you’re into game nights or movie nights with your friends, get a little of both with this great comedy where you’re sure to share some laughs.