Game Night: a snot-laughing comical masterpiece that improves on every rewatch

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

There are a few things in life I’ve regretted: overplucking my eyebrows in the 90s; that cheerleader costume I once wore to a party emblazoned with the word “HOE”; and giving a mediocre review to the snot-laughing comical genius that is Game Night.

Game Night is one of those movies that any normal person would like straight away, and how could you not? It’s goofy, slapstick and features the talents of Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman. Both funny people.

But it’s also one of those movies that really grows on you over time, a little crush that spreads and morphs into a full-blown, passionate love affair. The kind that you want to share with the world. The kind that turns you into one of those people that won’t shut up about it.

Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, Game Night immediately impressed with its plotting, pacing and performances – but every rewatch has been nothing but pure delight, mounting a persuasive argument that it should be considered an essential part of the American movie comedy canon.

That I rated it only three-and-a-half stars when it came out in 2018 – instead of at least four-and-a-half – is a shame I live with every day.

What’s behind the bias that makes us think every five-star masterpiece needs to be a sombre treatise on the human condition? Comedy is just as adept at getting to the heart of what makes us tick – and Game Night has it all, plus pratfalls. A winning combo!

If you’re one of the few people who have never seen the film, a quick set-up: Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) are two aficionados of games and puzzles. There’s no session of charades, Pictionary, trivia, pinball or Cluedo they couldn’t conquer.

Every week they host a game night with friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), a couple; and Ryan (Billy Magnussen), a dumb-dumb with a rotating roster of near-identical sales assistant dates.

Max is a little competitive – OK, he’s a lot competitive – and that rivalry is most pronounced with the one person he’s never been able to gazump, his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who’s more successful, has a sharper chin and is even taller than him.

Brooks offers to host a murder-mystery party in lieu of the regular lineup, and what’s supposed to be a night of fun and games becomes heightened hijinks when real-life gangsters kidnap Brooks.

Shenanigans ensue as Game Night takes you on a rollicking ride, hurtling from one elaborate comedic set-piece to the next. It might be anathema to the meaning of the word “highlight”, but it applies to every scene. Instructing criminals how to do a child’s pose? Highlight. A touch footy-esque egg chase scene through a smuggler’s mansion? Highlight. Every interaction with Max and Annie’s neighbour, the monotone and very literal Gary (Jesse Plemons)? Highlight.

And you will never see another back-alley bullet extraction scene as exquisitely staged as the one between Annie and Max. From the doggy squeaky toy to Annie’s absurdly large tweezers, the rhythms of the piece are pitch perfect.

Game Night’s physical comedy, joke ratio and whipfast references are undeniable, but the reason it’s so rewatchable is the kilowattage charm and chemistry of McAdams and Bateman. Annie and Max could’ve easily been the annoying, competitive couple in any friendship circle, but they are lovable, charismatic and relatable. Max may be jealous of his brother, and Annie may be frustrated with Max’s reticence to grow up and start a family, but they come through for each other – and for their friends.

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The core ensemble also includes the mega-talented Sharon Horgan, along with supporting turns from Chelsea Perreti, Jeffrey Wright and Michael C. Hall. Everyone is serving the story and the jokes. McAdams’ warmth balances Bateman’s more biting vibes, while Magnussen plays the naive fool with such cheerfulness.

It’s not that rewatching Game Night unearths another hidden joke each time (although it does that too); it’s that it adds to the feeling of being on a fun and wacky adventure with your best friends. We always need more of that.