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US comedies’ new favourite formula: a suburban lead in a high-octane action setting

From Date Night to Horrible Bosses to Bad Neighbours to Game Night. Is anyone else noticing a pattern?

Brash American comedies have discovered a formula of late. Take a straight-laced, suburban lead (probably Jason Bateman), give them a competitive streak, and dump them in an environment that triggers it. Their actions escalate with incredible speed: soon, they’re committing federal crimes in slapstick high-octane action scenes. Over the last decade, we’ve seen it in Date Night, Horrible Bosses (1 and 2), Bad Neighbours (1 and 2), Office Christmas Party, Keeping Up With the Joneses, The House and, now, Game Night.

It follows Bateman as Max, who is, along with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), obsessed with holding game nights. One week, his richer, cooler brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hosts an immersive role-playing mystery. But Brooks is secretly a criminal smuggler, and is genuinely kidnapped during the game, leading to shoot-outs and car chases our leads don’t realise are real.

Most films in this genre are, to put it bluntly, absolutely terrible. I cringed through the Horrible Bosses films, written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the directors of Game Night – so my expectations were low. But there are unanticipated joys here. Pop culture punchlines reference Mark and Donnie Wahlberg, Taken 3, Skeet Ulrich, Iron Man and the Baldwin brothers. The supporting cast steal the show: Ingrid Goes West’s Billy Magnussen has perfect comic timing as the group’s handsome dunce; Black Mirror’s Jesse Plemons’s wounded, deadpan cop next door teeters just on the edge of the psychopathic; and Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan grounds the more caricatured turns. And with a triple (quadruple?) bluff plot, Game Night seems to know the pitfalls of its tropes – playing with them just enough to surprise potentially tired audiences. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

This article first appeared in the 08 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new cold war

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Commons confidential: Momentum’s Christine Shawcroft loses comrades with furious Whatsapp messages

Your weekly dose of gossip from Westminster.

The kamikaze style of Momentum narcissist Christine Shawcroft certainly isn’t found in the ABC of Chairmanship, Walter Citrine’s definitive guide to conducting labour movement meetings. Comrades fear the strain of chairing the party’s disputes panel is unsettling the veteran activist. Frustrated by her inability to persuade Labour’s National Executive Committee members to drop disciplinary charges in two constituency cases, three horrified sources recounted how, while still chairing the hearing, a seething Shawcroft pinged a couple of splenetic WhatsApp messages to a 25-strong left group. The first unwise denunciation – “you bunch of fucking wankers” – was followed swiftly by the perhaps unwiser “I want to kill you all”. Yelled in the room, the insult might have proved sufficient grounds to summon Shawcroft on an abuse charge before the very panel she convenes. How to lose friends and alienate comrades.

My radar-lugged snouts report Harriet Harman is quietly soliciting support for a potential tilt at the Speakership should John Bercow be forced to vacate the chair. The Westminster grande dame was overheard discussing the bullying row threatening Big John, a taxi driver’s son, in the members’ cloakroom with tall Tory Daniel Kawczynski. The Conservative MP loftily informed Harman, “We need a Speaker with a little dignity and class.” Who oozes more class than an earl’s niece or greater dignity than the woman who retained
her poise when Gordon Brown’s deputy?

The ears of little Ben Gummer will be burning. A band of Tories have warned Theresa May of their unhappiness should a peerage be awarded to the former cabinet office minister who lost his Ipswich seat in last year’s general election. “Gummer assured us the manifesto would create waves,” growled an angry rebel, “and the patronising squirt wasn’t bloody wrong.”

Nerdy Culture Secretary Matt Hancock’s nerdier special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin stunned boozers by producing a roll-up chess board from his pocket to play a game sitting on the floor of a crowded bar
after midnight. Memo to self: check how that Tory campaign to fit in is going.

Labour’s punchy Louise Haigh has taken up boxing to keep fit. When Tory vice chair Chris Skidmore backed off in a lift, Left Hook Lou had to assure the wimp that she’s not hit an opponent. Yet.

“Are you Tom Watson?” inquired the stranger on a street, “You look a lot slimmer than on TV.” Not just the gogglebox. Shedding 5.5 stone creates a new political category: lightweight heavyweight. 

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special