We meet Peg Dahl (Zoey Deutch) around the age of 10. She lives in Buffalo, New York. Her family has never had real money and always scraped by. Her father died when she was around seven-years-old. Her mother (Judy Greer) operates an unregistered hair-dressing business out of their home. As Peg ages into her teens, she runs cheap hustles like selling discount cigarettes which are probably stolen. Her younger brother (Noah Reid) gets a chance to manage a local bar and sees this job as a step up from unemployment. Peg does not. She knows, deep in her bones, that she is cut out for a better life than this. Eventually, one of her money-making schemes goes wrong and she ends up doing time in Albion women’s prison.
While imprisoned, she decides that the small-time side-hustles are not worthy of her. Peg sees herself as a woman with a dream. She is not going to be poor. She is not going to live the small, restricted life that her family and friends do. She is going to be rich and successful, which was the way her late father used to think. His former dream is her dream, now.
The idea of debt collecting falls in her lap and it seems to be the way forward. She becomes an employee of the shady and violent Wizz (Jai Courtney). His brother and business partner purchases the debt from the banks. Wizz then collects the debt. To do this, he employs a number of shady low-rent types to threaten and con the debtors over the phone. Sometimes things get violent. Where others would see this business as a gathering of nasty thugs, Peg sees only a gold mine; in this very Buffalo place, she sees her way out of Buffalo.
BUFFALOED presents us with the self-assured, energetic and obnoxious Peg Dahl as the anti-hero of the piece. Deutch ‘s career thus far has not been about playing criminal hustlers, she is usually cast as a college-educated, middle-class young woman, often in a rom-com environment. Deutch no doubt wanted this role because it is different from the bulk of her previous work. Peg is more like a discount Jordan Belfort in a comedic WOLF OF WALL STREET.
The script is the work of Brian Sacca (who does double-duty playing Sal, one of the debt collectors) and it packs in a load of interesting detail at a number of levels; it’s a comedic take on Buffalo where Sacca is from originally; an attempt to investigate the seedy side of the US financial system; and a comedy about a damaged working-class family.
Director Tanya Wexler is best known for the Victorian-era comedy HYSTERIA (2011). Her excellent handling of the comedy here is the main sell of the movie. There are several action set-pieces that are funny, verging on slap-stick, but still maintain some of the threat necessary to keep the story rolling. Peg’s narration will annoy some, but it is necessary as it carries the kind of fourth-wall-breaking explanation and commentary as seen in Adam McKay’s THE BIG SHORT. Wexler and Sacca’s work reminds the audience regularly that as amoral as Peg is, she is a small player in the massive, ethics-free game that is American debt collection.
The moral compass of the film is represented most clearly by the character of Graham Feany (Jermaine Fowler), an honest lawyer who crosses Peg’s path. Feaney and Peg have a mutual attraction and this is a problem for her, because for once she can’t use her charm or BS to get what she wants. Fowler and Deutch have good onscreen chemistry that make their moments together more watchable than you might expect. Or to elaborate further, sexiness between characters is often super-boring for we, the pop-corn munchers in the cinema, Deutch, Fowler and director Wexler find some good moments for the mismatched couple.
Judy Greer is as excellent as ever and she effectively uses the few scenes she has to create her mother character. Jai Courtney is a convincingly sleazy bad-guy and manages to make Wizz both formidable and funny. The numerous support characters are well-cast, in terms of talent and possessing very watchable, non-Hollywood faces. They are also somewhat underused.
BUFFALOED is mostly engaging story about the dirty subject of debt. It lightly skates over the darker aspects of the American Dream and delivers 95 minutes of uneven comedy. 6.5/10