Rachel McAdams is having a good year. And probably every year is a good year for her in a lot of ways – she’s famous, rich, in a lot of movies – but what I mean is that this year she’s in two films that actually put her impressive range of talents to good use. Those talents have been so often underutilized or wasted in the two decades worth of wife/girlfriend roles she’s been given by Hollywood. Doctor Strange is a perfect example – if you’re just going to put a pretty female character in a movie for all of five minutes for Benedict Cumberbatch to fall in love with while she patches up his war wounds, why even cast McAdams. She’s proven she can do so much more than be a passive love interest, both in dramas (thinking about her performance in Spotlight floors me to this day) and comedies (Regina George forever). And this year she’s in one of each – the drama, Disobedience, a love story about two women raised in an Orthodox Jewish community, starring she and Rachel Weisz. And the comedy is Game Night, a seemingly slight romp through a hellish night for three couples, each of whom just wanted to crush their friends at party games. So what does Game Night do to make itself worthy of McAdams? Instead of forcing her into another wifey role, it lets her be its kick ass star.
In Game Night McAdams’ character, Annie, is married – in fact, the movie opens with a montage of she and Max (Jason Bateman, which, yah. another man I can now only think of in regards to the shitty way he’s treated a woman) meeting at pub trivia and falling in love amongst a flurry of competition and oneupmanship. It’s like if Monica from Friends married another Monica. Life is good for them, except they can’t conceive, something their doctor tells them could be related to Max’s sense of inferiority regarding his hotter, richer brother. It’s a pretty ridiculous premise, but it’s centered around a bit where their doctor, trying to get them to set her up with someone, ends up asking for the brother’s number. That scene sets the tone for a lot of the movie – you’re presented with a completely implausible scenario (like a person’s sperm count being directly connected to the fact that their sibling drives a better car than them), but the jokes around it are flying so fast you happily abandon logic to go along for the ride.
A couple who can’t have a baby, a dude emasculated by a more alpha-dude, a person in a long-term relationship who cheated while “on a break”, a weirdo neighbor – this movies sounds a lot like a season of Friends actually. And those comedy set-ups, tired and cliched, usually play into the kind of grating gender stereotypes that make it hard to watch that ubiquitous 90s sitcom nowadays. So when I initially saw that’s where Game Night was headed, I prepared myself for 100 minutes of rolling my eyes while the men complained about not getting enough and the women… well you know, women be nagging.
But thank god it’s 2018, not 1998, and Game Night doesn’t fall into that trap. Instead of going for the “men are from mars, women suck” thing, like so many comedies about groups of hetero couples have before, Game Night’s theme is more “all people are weird and make lots of bad decisions.”
Gary (Jesse Plemons), Annie and Max’s neighbor, definitely brings the “weird” part. He’s a sad soul, no longer invited to their weekly game night parts as he’s only become stranger since his wife left him (but still, guys, that’s pretty harsh). So Annie and Max are forced to dodge him in their driveway and make excuses about their grocery bags full of snacks that are obviously meant for more than two people. Besides McAdams, Plemons is the other star turn that makes this whole thing work. It’d be so easy to play Gary, who’s uptight, socially awkward and also a cop, in a way that’s just mocking or mean. Plemons, on a roll after similarly nailing it in Friday Night Lights and Fargo, gives Gary enough pathos and sincerity that we can feel for his post-separation loneliness, while at the same time understanding he might not be the most fun person to hang out with right now.
And as for the bad decisions part, well that applies to pretty much the whole group. Annie and Max’s regular game night group consists of their married friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), plus their friend Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and whatever hot but ditzy date he usually brings (we veering into some bullshit sexist territory here, but I’ll let squeak by on the grounds it mostly serves to point out what an idiot Ryan is for the rest of the movie). Everything changes with the arrival of Max’s aforementioned hottie of a brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks is annoyingly rich and successful (the man invested in Panera) and immediately upends their social routine by insisting they have a different kind of game night at his place. This game involves an interactive murder mystery where they’ll all compete by following clues, and the winner gets Brooks’ fancy sports car, which might as well have “virility” painted on the side.
Of course things don’t go as planned, and the way the film keeps things fun and moving is by pulling the rug out from under your expectations over and over again. I won’t spoil any of that for you here, I’ll only say that I appreciated how every wild plot twist gives the characters, especially Annie, another opportunity to surprise you. With every challenge she overcome sand every new weapon she almost accidentally kills them with, Annie starts to think more and more about what she’s capable of and what she wants from life. In Game Night you get that kind of thoughtful examination, plus zany antics, plus some incredible physical comedy (a scene involving a bloody finger and a white carpet had me nearly passed out) plus one of my favorite cameos of all time. So come for all that and stay for Rachel McAdams back where she should be – funny af and carrying this film like a boss.
Game Night is available to rent on Amazon and Itunes.