Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother Brooks arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents.
But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this “game” nor Brooks are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had…or, it’s game over.
Joining Bateman and McAdams in the cast are Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, and Kyle Chandler. We caught with the films screenwriter Mark Perez and the movie’s directors John Francis & Jonathan Goldstein to get the scoop on bringing together this ensemble comedy.
The Knockturnal: The film is hilarious. Talk about assembling this dream team of actors to play all these funny characters.
Jonathan Goldstein: Well, it was a real process. We knew we had Jason Bateman from the get-go because he was attached to produce it. We wrote the script kind of in his voice. We knew we wanted Rachel [McAdams], but beyond that, it was kind of a toss-up.
John Francis Daly: We also wanted to cast it with some non-traditional people who you don’t see in comedies a lot. So Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons are not the first names that come to mind, and we got so lucky on Billy [Magnussen]. They’re all so real, so committed to the parts that it makes it that much more fun and surprising.
Goldstein: I find that just casting actors that are really good is more important than ones that are really funny, especially if it’s sort of a plot-driven movie like this where they have to be reacting to a lot of terrible things, as well as good things. I think that there can be comedic actors that can be great in that little cookie-cutter mold, but outside of that to play anything dramatically you see that it doesn’t quite work with them. This kind of had a dream team of casts.
The Knockturnal: The movie’s obviously a comedy, but it has a fair share of action as well. Talk about balancing the two and making sure there’s both comedy and a little bit of action.
Daly: We approached it as much like a thriller as a comedy. We told our cinematographer we wanted this to look like a thriller, which meant more composed shots and more dollies, not Steadicam. The color palette is de-saturated kind of like a thriller. Our composer [Cliff Martinez] is a guy who’s done mostly Soderbergh movies and Drive, so he’s not a comic guy. We always wanted the audience to be on that kind of uncertainty of “what is this movie, exactly?” but in a good way.
Goldstein: Yeah, it gave us the opportunity to explore different camera techniques that haven’t been done a lot. We used this R1 arm that’s basically a [camera] rig attached to the car twenty feet back behind it so that it looks kinda like a third person driving game, like Grand Theft Auto where the camera’s always fixed with it. Then we digitally removed the rig after the fact. I haven’t really seen that use of a rig before in film, and because we were able to kind of cross in genres and not just in comedy it gave us the opportunity to do that.
The Knockturnal: Also, being writers, does that make you better directors? And how was collaborating with Mark [Perez, the screenwriter]?
Daly: I don’t know how directors who don’t write do it. I don’t quite understand, because it’s like, don’t you want to change things? If this is not working then what do you do? I guess you have the writer on set, but for us, it’s all part of the process. If it’s not working, we want to fix it.
Goldstein: Absolutely. And in terms of Mark, when we became involved with the film it had been around a while and we read it and we loved the premise and we loved the idea of not knowing for sure what’s real and what’s fake. So we kind of rolled with that.
The Knockturnal: Lastly, what is an ideal game night for you guys in your households?
Jonathan Goldstein: Any game where someone isn’t really upset or cries at the end of it is a good game for me. That’s a good game because there’s a lot of really competitive people that we play with that can be hurtful when they’re in heat of competition.
The Knockturnal: Talk about Game Night. How did you write the script and what was the mindset that you were in when you were writing it?
Mark Perez: The mindset I was in? You know it’s funny, a friend of mine who is also a producer on the movie called me and he goes “Game Night! That’s the title. Game Night.” He’s always really good with titles and I’m like “Shit, that’s a good title, I got to think about this.” And I thought about it and I was like “What would be the best way to do this?” And he’s like “Maybe it’s over a period of time.” And I go “No man, let’s do it overnight. Let it be crazy and then have all the people think that it’s a real murder mystery and, you know, crazy stuff happening and not knowing.” Jumping in that way it opened up a bunch of avenues for me as far as creatively because all my favorite movies I love. I love Three Amigos where they think it’s a movie but they’re actually being chased. Or Tropic Thunder where they think it’s a movie, you know Tropic Thunder is dope dude. So they think … That whole kind of movie is a turn-on to me, so that’s kind of the genesis that got me turned on to writing Game Night.
The Knockturnal: Now, the movie is a comedy but it has a good amount of action to it. How do you as a writer balance the two?
Perez: You go into it going “Okay, people are, I think, getting tired of just the same kind of comedies.” You see the trailer, you go “I know what’s going to happen, this guy is going to do this but then there’s going to be horror and there’s going to be this stuff.” And I go “What if we add some real stakes to it, what if when people get shot it’s real when people get hurt it’s real when people are scared it’s real.” And to the credit of the producers, they kept grounding me when I was writing it to make sure that all of that was there. I wanted it to be more than just a broad comedy and have it be this thriller nuance. It’s funny I was talking a second ago I just saw Get Out and I’m watching Get Out and I turned to my wife and I go “I’m so jealous of this movie.” Because it was a comedy and it was a thriller and it was all this different kinds of stuff and I think that’s what I tried to lean into when I wrote Game Night the screenplay.
The Knockturnal: With being a writer and you have your directors, how do you interact with them? How much do you talk with them in preparing the script?
Mark Perez: Well it’s funny, I didn’t talk to them much. I finished the script. New Line decided they wanted to make it. They hired these writers and directors, which by the way, you know, I was psyched. Not only do you get directors that are awesome but they can also write too. So you give your project to somebody who’s funny, and smart, and there’s no ego in it. I think making movies is such a collaborative process to have these directors and writers. I didn’t have much to do with them after I gave them the script. When I went to the screening I was like “Man, they hit it. It’s dope.” So I was psyched.
The Knockturnal: If you were to have your own game night, what would it consist of?
Mark Perez: Yeah man, that’s always the thing. I go to game nights and they’re like “Here’s what’s going to happen.” I’m like “Oh man, pour me extra booze.” Because it always makes me stressed out. It’s funny, I was writing a movie for Vince Vaughn once and he invited me to do … They do this kind of flash charades where you do charades and then you run into another room and I’m like ok it’ll be fun. Vince Vaughn will be cool, and he took it crazy serious. He was like “Come on, we got to get it right.” And it spooked me. I was like “Okay that’s the last time I’m going to go.” People take game night super duper seriously, it’s really competitive. I think I’m the opposite. I like to sit in the corner and drink and have fun. But that would be my perfect game night, everybody competing and me in the back laughing.