Watching Game Night is like witnessing someone on a hot streak while playing charades. As they keep nailing points for their team in rapid succession, you wonder how long they can sustain it. In Game Night, it’s the laughs that just keep coming.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as Max and Annie, a married couple who host a weekly gathering among friends. One of the movie’s delightful surprises is the way it doesn’t force Max and Annie to be antagonists, but rather lets them enjoy each other’s company and make each other laugh. It’s this supportive camaraderie that is at the heart of one of the movie’s best scenes. When Max suffers a bullet wound (don’t ask), Annie confidently claims she can fix it. Max bravely encourages her, but once the blood starts flowing they succumb to a series of sympathetic gag reflexes, resulting in something akin to a gross-out vaudeville routine.
As much as I would have been fine if Game Night had focused on Max and Annie, another one of the movie’s strengths is the way it spreads the wealth around. Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury have a pricklier, though no less funny, chemistry as another couple who do have trouble when she lets a secret slip. Billy Magnussen shows up as a cad who at first seems to be an excuse for a series of off-color bimbo jokes (there is a montage of the dumb models he’s brought to previous game nights). But when he shows up with a surprisingly smart date (Sharon Hogan) on this particular occasion, the himbo joke is on him. Also on hand is Kyle Chandler, revealing strong comic chops as Max’s show-off older brother, and gifted character actor Jesse Plemons as Gary, the intensely creepy next door neighbor who has been recently disinvited from game night. Ashen white, with pursed lips and a hard stare, Plemons elicits laughs simply by refusing to blink.
Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, Game Night has a refreshing amount of visual wit as well. There is a whiplash opening montage tracing Max and Annie’s courtship over a series of competitive board games, as well as a series of clever establishing shots of various neighborhoods. At first, we seem to be looking at miniature pieces on a game board, but as we zoom in an actual suburban street comes into focus. Such touches suggest Game Night also functions as a spoof of middle-class malaise. The movie lampoons the holes in our lives that we sometimes hope to fill with a round of charades—and the comic possibilities that can arise when the game turns way too serious.