Comedy thriller delivers with inconsequential game night humor
As unmemorable as a game of checkers, as insubstantial as party charades, but as fun as a round of drunken Scattergories. Game Night, a new comedy thriller from the people behind Horrible Bosses and Vacation, will barely stay in your brain long enough for you to get to the car, but nevertheless, it’s good, stupid fun.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a thoroughly cute yet fiercely competitive married couple. To exercise their love of competition (well, in truth, winning), the two have a standing weekly date with two other thoroughly cute couples for game night. Into this benign situation comes Max’s older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who has succeeded in the game of life to a degree that fosters sibling resentment in Max.
Brooks co-opts game night with a wild role-playing kidnapping adventure that quickly if predictably spins out of control. Add a priceless Faberge egg, a mobster called the Bulgarian, and a creepy cop as a next-door neighbor, and we have ourselves a raucous comedy.
Bateman and McAdams have just the right light touch for this kind of borderline comedy. They manage the ruder, darker elements with a grace that prevents the movie from becoming unredeemable (as The Hangover often did). Chandler approaches his caricature of a role with gusto and conviction. But the highlight of the cast is Jesse Plemons as the incredibly sinister-sad neighbor Gary. Recently divorced and desperate, excluded from the board-game fun, Gary longs to be a part of something, anything. Plemons brings the right blend of mania and melancholy to the part.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who have both cut their teeth as comedy writers, show the right blend of grounded and ridiculous to keep the action moving, and the dialogue is well-seeded with great toss-off jokes.
The banter is fast, the coincidences implausible, and the humor frequently unnecessarily coarse or morbid. But none of that really matters. In the era of The Hangover and Seth Rogen-Judd Apatow comedies, the goal is admirably simple: create a diverting, entertaining, somewhat risqué few hours in the cinema. The sights are set fairly low, but Game Night manages to achieve and even surpass them.
The Netflix comedy star brings his honest and deviant humor to The Playhouse on Rodney Square this Friday
When he was 18 years old, Tom Segura took way too many drugs while hanging out at a bar one night with friends. Along with instantly becoming the life of the party, he blacked out completely.
He also almost died.
At some point, he fell to the floor. His sister called an ambulance, and he was whisked away to a hospital, where he later woke up in the emergency room staring at the bright ceiling lights with multiple tubes running out of his mouth.
He had awakened from a coma. Doctors told him later he was lucky he ever woke up at all. What saved him from flatlining?
The fact that he was fat.
On the Comedy Central show This Is Not Happening, Segura recounts that traumatic cautionary tale in a way that is equal parts honest, relatable, endearing and frightening. It also may be the funniest drug-overdose story that you’ll ever hear.
Like Richard Pryor talking about catching fire from freebasing, it’s Segura’s willingness to joyfully hopscotch back and forth between the appropriate and inappropriate, the mundane and the outrageous, the tragic and the downright hilarious that makes his brand of stand-up stand out.
It’s probably also the reason the stand-up artist has two successful comedy specials – Completely Normal and Mostly Stories – currently running on Netflix.
This Friday, Segura brings all of his funny and perverse energy to The Playhouse on Rodney Square as part of his No Teeth, No Entry Tour. Here’s what he has to say about his act and his frame of mind.
O&A: The story about your overdosing on GHB [Ed: also known as liquid ecstasy] – and the whole embarrassing thing of almost killing yourself by doing something stupid – a lot of people would never share that. But you did. And that’s something that comes up again and again in your comedy, that you’re not afraid to make yourself look a certain way…
Tom Segura: A lot of times I’ve thought about the overdose, and the whole reason I took too much was because I had too much in my mouth, and I didn’t want to look dumb by spitting it out. You know? I had too much of a poison in my mouth and I’d rather swallow it. It’s so crazy that I would think like that. But it is one of those things where, in the moment, you’re like, “You don’t want to look like an amateur.”
Even to this day, I realize that I’m so polite, that I do things against my better judgment so that I don’t appear impolite. It won’t be a mouthful of drugs. But I’ll stay in situations where everything inside of me telling me “Say something,” but I don’t want to appear rude. As I get older, I’m like, “Just address what’s actually bothering you instead of appearing impolite.”
O&A: Do you feel that comedy is an outlet to express all those pent-up frustrations?
TS: Oh, yeah. 100 percent. I mean, you have to be bothered by something. Somebody was talking to me, like, “I know you think comedians are angry.” And I said, “Well, they should be. Not walking around wanting to punch holes in walls. But they should be bothered by something. Because if you’re not bothered by something, you’d have nothing to talk about.”
That’s the whole thing: You should be annoyed if you’re funny. If you are so enlightened, if you’re in a place of nirvana, you’re not funny. You might be inspiring. But you’re not funny.
I feel standup is a place [to share] all the things that may not be conversation points or things that you can grind-out about in everyday life. It’s an outlet where you can go: “This is what’s bothering me. This sucks.”
O&A: On that note then, what’s your definition of good comedy? What are the elements that make it work for you?
TS: You don’t want to be indifferent in comedy. For me, the whole thing about comedy is that you have an opinion on something. It doesn’t matter if it’s an opinion on oven gloves or if it’s an opinion on who’s being confirmed to be on the Supreme Court. As long as you have an opinion – and usually the stronger the opinion, the better – that’s a great start.
Then it’s always about highlighting, almost exaggerating, an element of what you are saying. That’s what makes something pop! You have something punched up. It’s a departure from normal dialogue. It’s that extreme example.
It’s also dropping those social guards. Letting that politeness drop is what makes, I think, the best comedy flourish. Because the person is not worried if this is PC or acceptable to everyone. When you have all those elements combined, I think you have good comedy.
O&A: You’ve been doing this a long time. You started standup almost right after college. When did you learn that you were funny?
TS: I felt that I had some ability early on. We moved a lot when I was a kid. And when you’re a kid, everything’s about that social acceptance.
When you’re moving a lot, every time you start off, you’re reestablishing yourself and trying to make friends. And I would make kids laugh. Sometimes I would really make kids laugh. Like really hard. In my eyes, I was making them laugh more than I’d seen other people make other kids laugh. That gave me at least the illusion that I had some ability to do that. The more that I moved, and the more that I tried to be funny and had success with it, the more I thought, “Maybe that’s something I can do.”
O&A: Every comedian has airplane or airport humor, but yours is different because yours involves more your interactions with people you meet, whether it’s the comedian Bruce Bruce, or Mike Tyson, or even everyday people you meet. Are you constantly recording this stuff in your head?
TS: I think I’m tuned in to those things as being funny. We all have all these interactions all the time. But different comics are more tuned in to certain interactions.
I get turned on by small, mundane interactions if I think they’re socially awkward or inappropriate. If somebody says something – and I’m like, “Wait… what?!” – my radar goes off, because to me, that’s funny. And I know I’m going to report on it. Almost like a journalist. I’m going to tell people about it. I live for those interactions. They have always been super funny to me.
Tom Segura will perform at The Playhouse on Rodney Square this Friday, July 28, as part of his No Teeth No Entry Tour. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets can be purchased via the websiteor by calling The Grand’s box office at (302) 652-5577.
The French comedian will perform at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Feb. 7
Chances are you haven’t heard of Gad Elmaleh. And he kind of likes it that way.
At least for now.
Imagine: a standup comedian who truly enjoys his anonymity; who’d rather you not know his background before you watch him perform; who’d rather you not know that in France he’s considered one of the funniest people alive.
“It’s refreshing,” says Elmaleh of his newly discovered privacy here in the United States. “To just stand somewhere and stare at people with nobody recognizing me, it’s great. Because I get to live the situation, and to experience it, and enjoy it.”
After more than two decades in comedy in France, and with several TV shows and 22 movies to his credit, Elmaleh took the biggest chance of his career: He moved to America.
Here is a guy known as “the French Jerry Seinfeld”; who broke records by selling out L’Olympia in Paris seven weeks in a row; who was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Minister of Culture. And he’s essentially starting over at age 45.
“I worked very hard on the English,” Elmaleh says during a recent phone interview, his voice revealing not only a French accent, but an animated eagerness and, at times, a sober earnestness. “Two years ago, we couldn’t have had this conversation.”
A stranger in a strange land that keeps getting stranger with every passing day, Elmaleh is currently on tour and will be playing World Cafe Live at The Queen on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
“I want to do stand-up,” Elmaleh says. “And what you get from this experience—mentally, physically, emotionally, everything—it’s very hard to find this, and retrieve this, and get this with the cinema. It’s a ride, doing stand-up, a crazy ride [with] risk and pleasure and disappointment and fear and anxiety and reinvention and trying every night.
“Starting over is a big challenge.”
Here, he discusses his passion and why he did what he did—leaving great success behind in his homeland.
O&A: What has been the biggest obstacle for you in coming to America to do comedy, other than having to learn the language?
Elmaleh: I think the language is really not the main thing. Obviously, it’s very hard, and you have to write and translate. And talk in English every day with Americans. And watch TV and [understand] it.
But the really shocking, surprising thing [is playing comedy clubs] unannounced. They have no idea who’s going to be there. It’s just 100 percent Americans who have no idea: “Who is this guy with the weird name trying to do jokes in English?”
And the great thing is I feel I need to earn those laughs. It’s not only that I feel—I have to. Because if I’m not funny there…they’re not going to be nice to me or be like, “Oh, he’s traveling from France, let’s give him a break.” And I love that. It’s a good thing. But it’s also very hard. Because when you bomb, you bomb seriously. It’s humbling.
So when I perform in front of 12,000 [in France] and then I go to the Comedy Cellar in New York in front of 100 people who have no idea who I am, it’s a really, really big challenge. And I love it.
O&A: When you were on the Jim and Sam Show [featured 8-11 a.m. on Sirius 206 and XM 103], Jim Norton—who has 26 years of experience in comedy —was talking about how after a bad show he questions himself. And this is a veteran comedian questioning himself. Is it like that?
Elmaleh: You know, it’s both. Because I have this thing in the back of my head all the time that says you have nothing to lose. What’s the worst-case scenario? “Oh, that guy with the bad accent was not funny?” It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It’s a little painful. But it’s not that bad.
Just go home, and I write and rewrite. And listen to my sets, because I record every single set. But I’m lucky that I already made my career in France and made my money and earned my life and had my kids and all that. If I had to struggle and make a living with the standup comedy in the U.S., starting over, I would die. It would be impossible for me.
O&A: There’s this comparison to Jerry Seinfeld. People have been calling you “the French Jerry Seinfeld.” Does that work for you?
Elmaleh: I think it’s kind of lazy to compare people. But it’s good when they compare you to the right person, the person you admire. I do observational comedy…And [Seinfeld and I] have been connected even before we met. Then we became friends, and I went on his show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I open for him often. I travel with him. He comes to Paris sometimes, and performed in Paris in English one night, which I helped arrange.
I always say as a joke, and also to him, that they can compare me to Jerry Seinfeld the day that he performs an hour in French.
O&A: What was that day like, when you did Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Seinfeld? It looked like you had fun. Had you two met before that?
Elmaleh: Yeah, we were friends before. He was really interested in my challenge. He doesn’t understand why I need to come to America to do this. He always makes fun of me and says [in animated voice], “It’s like if you say, ‘OK, I’m going to go to Italy and start a pasta factory, and then I’m going to go to Germany and start building cars!”
And he’s making fun of me and he says, “You know it’s standup comedy. You’re from France. You should stay there.”
But I want him to understand… standup comedy was born in the U.S. If you play soccer you want to be with the best team. If you play baseball, you want to be in the city where baseball is No. 1. So I came to New York.
O&A: You were in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. You played the detective. And a theme in that movie was that people kept looking back in the past for a golden age. Everyone was looking back into the past. That said, when was the “Golden Age of Comedy” for you? Were there comedians that inspired you? Or would you say now is the best time for comedy?
Elmaleh: It’s funny, because I’ve been inspired as an artist not only by comedians. And it’s really interesting how you can be inspired by different role models that are not necessarily comedians.
The shock that I had when I saw Charlie Chaplin, when I was a kid. And the movie was The Kid. I was a little boy in Casablanca, Morocco. It was a shock. It was really an important moment for me.
Also, I don’t know why, but I also immediately thought of Frank Sinatra. I don’t know why. When I put on a song from Sinatra, it’s not only the music that I hear, I hear a whole time. A time, an epoch, a way of life.
There’s a whole atmosphere. There’s a whole environment. And if I could go back in time, I would really love to attend one of his concerts, and hang out with him, and [see] him hang out with the Rat Pack. There’s something really classic that I’m nostalgic about. Maybe I’m just getting old, but that’s what inspires me.
These six exceptional films will be the ones that I remember the most from 2016.
Amy Adams is an expert linguist charged with translating the strange visual language of aliens who have set up camp in strategic spots around the world. The film is about trust and communication (and also about the nature of time), but director Denis Villeneuve is just as interested in how we earthlings interact, or don’t, with one another. The thoughtful screenplay by Eric Heisserer is given further luster by Villeneuve’s deliberate pace and Bradford Young’s muted but effective cinematography.
This foul-mouthed superhero comedy seems out of place with the more somber fare on this list, but Deadpool manages to re-charge the often-tiresome Marvel canon by simultaneously embracing the excesses of the genre while also mocking them. Ryan Reynolds finally discovers a vehicle for his off-kilter sensibility, and is ably assisted by Morena Baccharin, T.J. Miller, and a terrific effects team. The self-referential and hilarious credits and the obligatory Marvel “Easter egg” might be worth the rental fee by themselves.
This Korean mind-game of a movie quite consciously evokes the mysterious narrative of Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon with its labyrinthine plot. But it also defies its audience’s expectations of stately Asian cinema with a story of intrigue, trickery, romance, and a bit of steamy sex. A young girl is sent to become a servant of a sheltered, perhaps unstable noblewoman. Whenever you think you have this story figured out though, it shifts…slyly, delightfully.
Hell or High Water
Chris Pine and Ben Foster play hapless brothers who resort to crime to save their debt-ridden family ranch. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham are the wily Texas Rangers tracking them down. As the brothers’ circumstances become known, their crimes become more understandable, and viewers find themselves torn between the sympathetic criminals and the relentless arm of the law. British director David Mackenzie intuitively captures the laconic, even fatalistic tone of this West Texas thriller.
La La Land
Writer-director Damien Chazelle, who stunned the film world in 2014 with his debut feature, Whiplash, has re-imagined the movie musical with this winsome story about two young idealistic artists (he a jazz pianist, she an actress) trying to make it in Hollywood. Utterly charming and unabashedly romantic, La La Land is a candy-colored love song to dreamers of all types, featuring winning performances by its stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Even the most cynical viewers would find them, and this film, hard to resist.
Manchester by the Sea
The movies would have you believe that every crisis in life can be overcome, usually with a profound emotional speech accompanied by a rousing swell of strings on the soundtrack. Kenneth Lonergan’s quietly powerful Manchester by the Sea, by contrast, maintains that once some people are broken by life, they stay broken. Casey Affleck, in the performance of his career, plays Lee, a man debilitated by past tragedy who must face those demons when he is left to be the guardian of his teenage nephew after his brother’s untimely death. A heartachingly sad and indelibly human film.
Honorable mention: Moonlight, Zootopia, Love & Friendship, Moana and The Lobster.
And a shot…coming to Theatre N in December.
DenialScreening Jan. 20-22
Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall star in this film based on a true story. Scholar and professor Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz) characterizes amateur British historian David Irving as a Holocaust denier in a well-regarded essay. When he sues her for libel in 1996 under English law, she and her legal team must prove the truth of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Interestingly, much of the film’s dialogue was taken directly from court transcripts. Fairly subdued and straightforward as a narrative, the film is still a powerful reminder of the depravities of which humans are capable, as well as of their ability to conveniently forget past ugliness. For a full Theatre N schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.