'Buffaloed': Film Review

Guy Godfree
Deutch's formidable comic talents almost make it work.
2/14/2020

Zoey Deutch plays a young woman who gets involved in a shady debt collection business in Tanya Wexler's comedy, which also features Judy Greer and Jai Courtney.

It seems fitting that the new comedy Buffaloed takes place in, where else, Buffalo. A sort of Big Short-lite about a young woman who enters the debt collection business, the film stars Zoey Deutch, and the up-and-coming actress seizes the opportunity to tear into the role as if she were ravenously devouring a plate of the city's trademark wings and not bothering to wipe the sauce off her face. Her wildly entertaining performance proves the standout element of the pic, which never quite reaches the comic heights for which it's aiming.

Deutch plays Peg, whose brains and talent become evident early in the proceedings when she's accepted into an Ivy League university. The problem is, she can't pay for it, since her widowed mom (Judy Greer) is struggling to make ends meet with a hair salon she runs out of their house. Peg, whose late father was a con man imprisoned for his crimes, has inherited his larcenous tendencies; she attempts to raise money for tuition by selling counterfeit Buffalo Bill tickets. This being a sacrilege in the sports-obsessed city, she's promptly arrested and sent to jail.

After her release several years later, Peg receives a phone call from a debt-collection agency which has been harassing her mother. Rather than reacting angrily, she immediately senses an opportunity, and persuades the crooked head of the agency, Wizz (Jai Courtenay, having a blast with his villainous character), to hire her. But the fast-talking Peg, who quickly proves that she's uncommonly gifted in her new profession, isn't content with merely being an employee. Incurring Wizz's wrath, she starts a competing agency staffed with a rogues' gallery of colorful characters, even while beginning a risky romance with the prosecuting attorney (Jermaine Fowler, Sorry to Bother You) who got her convicted for her previous crime.

Directed by Tanya Wexler (Hysteria), the film marks the debut screenplay of Brian Sacca, an actor whose screen credits include The Wolf of Wall Street. That experience was clearly influential, as this effort borrows liberally from Scorsese's opus with such stylistic devices as having the central character break the fourth wall and explain the complicated financial machinations of her trade. 

Unfortunately, Buffaloed lacks the depth and sophistication to be more than a minor diversion. The overly broad humor focuses on the story's locale to increasingly tiresome effect, with far too many gags about those wings — including a judge repeatedly asking lawyers arguing cases before him whether they prefer Anchor Bar or Duff's — that will probably have audiences yukking it up in upstate New York while leaving those unfamiliar with the city's culinary landmarks cold. And though the financial subject matter could have proved fascinating at a time when so many people are plagued by serious debt, its more complicated aspects are dealt with so sketchily that the cautionary themes become lost.

Deutch proves the pic's saving grace, delivering such an infectiously exuberant turn that she single-handedly propels the proceedings to a higher level. With the actress' high-pitched voice and manic delivery, her Peg threatens at times to become a caricature, but Deutch, whose estimable comic chops have been showcased in such films as Zombieland: Double Tap and on the Netflix series The Politician, knows just when to pull back. She's also very effective in the more dramatic moments, particularly the scenes involving Peg's troubled relationship with her put-upon mother that also allow Greer a chance to shine. Given higher quality material, there would seem to be no limits to what this talented actress could achieve. 

Production companies: Lost City Productions, Bold Crayon Productions, MXN Entertainment
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Jai Courtney, Judy Greer, Jermaine Fowler, Noah Reid, Lusia Strus, Lorrie Odom, Raymond Ablack, Nicholas Carella, Paulyne Wei, James M. Connor
Director: Tanya Wexler
Screenwriter: Brian Sacca
Producers: Mason Novick, John Finemore, Bannor Michael MacGregor, Jeffrey Katz, Zoey Deutch, Brian Sacca
Executive producers: James Hoppe, Elizabeth Grave, Brooke Davies, Phil Quartararo, Mary Anne Waterhouse, Kirsten Ames
Director of photography: Guy Godfree
Production designer: Gordon Barnes
Editor: Casey Brooks
Composer: Matthew Margeson
Costume designer: Debra Hanson
Casting: John Buchan, Jason Knight

95 minutes