MOVIE REVIEW: “Buffaloed”

Our dangerous obsession with greed
Zoe Deutch and Jai Courtney
Directed by Tanya Wexler

A grade schoolgirl grooming herself to be the next Warren Buffet. One who puts profit margin above a real education. A girl who sells hot cigarettes at her junior high-school. This behavior continues through her life as she resists the easy road and finds alternative ways to make that green. Hustle. Hustle. Hustle. And most importantly, “Don’t fuck with my money!”

This is how the new social comedy “Buffaloed” begins. Not with a small character build but with a forceful declaration by a woman obsessed with the seductive power of capitalism.

Peg Dahl (the immensely talented Zoey Deutch) was born with talent for the hustle. She lives in Buffalo, N.Y. and after doing a small stint in prison for scalping counterfeit football tickets, Peg moves in with her mother and brother (Judy Greer and Noah Reid).

After seeing big money opportunities in the completely dishonest practices of debt collectors, Peg discovers this could be the very world where she could use her shady talents to her financial advantage. As her first debt collector boss (the sexist, vulgar, and out of his mind Wizz) puts it, “Debt doesn’t die.”

After leaving her boss (an outlandishly fun Jai Courtney) once she is betrayed, Peg starts her own debt collector’s agency and staffs it with money-hungry and driven social misfits like herself.

Peg’s entrepreneurial drive and bold defiance ignites the wrath of her former boss and a war begins.

Screenwriter Brian Sacca and director Tanya Wexler pepper their film with some pointed in-jokes about the city of Buffalo and its inhabitants’ obsession with sports and buffalo wings, but they don’t let that become the crux of their film. This is a screenplay that speaks to the serious and existing problem in this country of how debt of any kind can ruin people’s lives and how the predatory collection agencies use gangster-like tactics to squeeze every last penny out of their prey.

That said, the film doesn’t dig deep enough into its subject matter,making a statement on a surface level only. While thematic comparisons can be made with films such as Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” this isn’t an in-depth exploration of the subject.

Wexler and Sacca take a decidedly madcap approach. Scenes and performances go big from the very beginning. This style works for a lot of the film and falters more often than not.

While Peg is an entertaining character, she isn’t necessarily likable. The mistake is made that we are so endeared to Deutch and become seduced by her performance that we confuse that with caring about the character.

Sure, Peg eventually gets a conscience and makes things as right as she can for her family and co-workers, but I felt her redemption wasn’t presented on believable levels.

Zoey Deutch is very good here and shows real comic timing. When the screenplay lets her down Deutch always seems to rise above it, and owns her moments. The actress is smart to never let herself drown in the uneven lunacy around her.

Courtney, an Australian actor, is best known for action films and the occasional drama. He shows some real comedic chops (albeit darkly) as Wizz. Courtney’s performance is a surprise and a real standout as he slithers through the film like a too-slick gangster leading a war of wits for which he is woefully unsuited.

A problem I have with the film is the somewhat uneven pacing. The balance of sentimentality, social commentary and lunacy isn’t always well handled. This causes some supporting characters that could be interesting to get the short end of the cinematic stick.

The main victim of the pacing issues is the very funny comedian Jermaine Fowler who plays a love interest borne of Peg’s legal troubles. After a good introduction and a comical reunion with Peg, his character comes and goes much too often for us to get involved with him. Fowler is capable and his character should’ve been more important than what the film allows.

“Buffaloed” takes on the dangerous obsession of American greed and the dangers of debt and does so with a blanket of zaniness. Does it work? Pretty much.

Director Wexler gets her film’s point across immediately but too often zips through details and moments where we should’ve been able to soak in the lessons being laid out.

There is also a Jekyll and Hyde approach to the character of Peg. She is a hustler from day one. Within the first fifteen minutes she is in prison and doesn’t learn any lessons from it. Peg is crass and manipulative and self-absorbed. While Deutch the actress makes us laugh, Peg the character is consistently meant to be pretty much unlikeable. Wexler seems to not be as invested as she should be with Peg’s vulnerability. Instead, the director is in too much of a hurry to get to the expected (but not fully earned) redemptive happy ending.

“Buffaloed” is a pretty good film for the most part. It’s entertaining due to the dedicated performances of Zoey Deutch and Jai Courtney and the madcap vibe that fuels the story. I just wish the screenplay hadn’t bitten off more than it could chew.

Zoe Deutch and Jai Courtney in “Buffaloed”