Game Night begins with an irresistibly funny and ridiculous montage in which the main couple meets that sets the tone for the entire film. Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) are two crazy-competitive masters of gaming who fall madly in love with one another over their mutual obsession with competition. The strength of Game Night lies in its unlikely plotline and humorous character interactions, but in true Hollywood form, the circular emotional quest is forced into a square hole—which ends up interrupting the flow of an otherwise very entertaining film. These moments which desperately try to keep a subplot about the couple’s infertility relevant to the whole story feel out of place and forced. Beyond this, however, Game Night is wonderful: it’s original, cinematically creative, and very funny.
A quick-cut, frantic first five minutes show Max and Annie’s relationship through game nights and passionate celebrations of wins and ends with their game-themed wedding. The pace comes to a slow halt over a game of paper football in the lobby of a doctor’s office, and the emotional quest of the film is revealed: the couple is having trouble conceiving. The source of the couple’s infertility is revealed to be caused by Max’s feeling of inferiority to his brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), a mega-successful investor. When Brooks comes to visit and hosts the weekly game night of Max and Annie’s friend group at his place, the couple makes it their mission for Max to finally beat him. Brooks promises that his game night will be better than all the others before it, as he has hired a murder mystery entertainment group to come in and stage a kidnapping. As the game kicks off, men break in and take Brooks in a hilarious scene in which the game night participants, Max and Annie included, snack on cheese as Brooks is beaten in his kitchen and eventually dragged out the door. Once he’s gone, the participants split into their respective couples to begin solving the “crime.”
Part of the humor of Game Night is the ambiguity between what is real and what is staged. The game night participants are convinced that nothing that is happening is real, and viewers remain in the dark. As the film continues, the absurdity of the situation increases, but the film stays funny because it is rooted in self-awareness. The tension is built up with tight shots to conceal the character’s surroundings and with amplified sounds of household normalities like cutting and preparing food, only for it to be deflated by funny, self-conscious moments. At one point Max emerges from the bathroom, slightly menacing music trailing his path into the kitchen. A knife comes around the corner just as he enters the kitchen— but it’s only Brooks, bringing the knife into the living room to set out with the snacks. Creative shots also help to keep things interesting. In many of the scenes which include cars, the camera is mounted to the car, creating an interesting tracking shot which draws viewers into the action. Another particularly interesting shot included the camera spiraling in synchronization with a turning door handle.
Game Night is a great watch that clocks in at a refreshingly brief one hour and 40 minutes, and the stellar cast gives the film a certain assuredness through light, well-acted performances. With so many dramedies coming to theaters as of late, it’s refreshing to have a silly comedy that’s packed with some seriously laugh-out-loud moments and doesn’t take itself too seriously.