Studios: Lost City; Bold Crayon Pictures; MXN Entertainment
Publisher: Magnolia Pictures
Platforms: Digital – out now on iTunes, Google, Xbox, Amazon and other major digital platforms.
Release Date: 9th of September, 2020
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the trailer for Buffaloed when I saw it. It looked like another run-of-the-mill American comedy which ultimately gives away the bulk of the film’s plot with in-character narration directly to the audience. Despite the cliche, I was hopefully that first impressions could be deceiving and that the film was more than it appeared on the surface and might surprise me. So I booted up my laptop, set up my home theatre and tried to forget about the world’s troubles unfolding outside my window.
The film’s narrative follows Peggy Dahl (Zoey Deutch) in her quest from childhood to become wealthy. From her youth, we see her calculating and working numerous schemes in order to build up a fortune and go to college. Unfortunately, due to the dubious legality of one of these schemes, she ends up serving time in prison where she continues to plot and pull money-making schemes with little success. Her dreams of college shattered after leaving prison, Peggy finds a new profession which might suit her unscrupulous self in the world of private debt collecting. After she finds that her boss is exploiting her, she sets out to start her own debt collection agency to compete in the amoral and bloodthirsty debt collecting industry.
I found the film’s protagonist to be utterly vile. Her entire philosophy of material acquisition regardless of cost to others around for no reason other than pure avarice has no endearment for me. I have enjoyed the antics of greedy characters and their arcs as they learn that money is not everything… but Peg just held no other redeeming qualities for me. Her unremitting greed being played straight at the start of the film, combined with no other compelling foil character, means that I just was not invested in the narrative arc of the film. The single note she hits just isn’t particularly compelling or entertaining to watch and the film expects me to find her compelling or likeable. When Peg finally experiences a change of heart, the change just carried no emotional impact because I had no investment in this character. This lack of engagement fundamentally dulled my enjoyment of the film in general.
Despite my lack of engagement with the protagonist, I can state that Deutch’s performance is frenetically unmatched by her peers. It’s clear to see that Deutch is laying all she’s got on the table with what she brings to her character but without my own investment in her character, I just found her to be obnoxious and repulsive more than anything. Similarly, with the ensemble cast I found that there just wasn’t too much for me to invest in with the characters around Peg. Jermaine Fowler as Ada does a good turn as the film’s love interest and conscience but is similarly constrained by lack of development. Their primary characteristics are largely based around their specific relationship to Peg and leaves them feeling one dimensional.
The film’s writing, I feel was largely to blame for so many of its shortcomings. Buffalloed markets itself as a comedy and I ultimately found it’s humour falling flat more often than not. It was the perfect mix of dry humour and American cringe comedy to completely alienate me from my sense of humour. Furthermore, I believe the film attempts to address the serious economic issues at play in the American debt collection industry but ultimately anything to fundamentally say beyond “the debt collection industry is evil”; a sentiment only the depraved would disagree with. The film does nothing to explore the wider economic context and the forces therein which leads to the accumulation of private debt in the hands of villainous debt collectors which is an opportunity that was sorely missed to tap into the vein of the present.
The film’s visual direction does not leave to great of an impression in either direction. The scenes are competently shot and staged and the editing is fine but there’s no real visual flourishes that elevate the film above that of a competent baseline. Interestingly, Buffaloed does perform a cinematic homage to a film that similarly tackled the state of the American economy, The Big Short, by doing a similar expository fourth wall breaking cut-away to explain a piece of financial jargon. I very much enjoyed this foray into learning about the debt collection industry and I wished there had been more of them.
The film doesn’t really engage with it’s sound design in a particularly unique or memorable way. The film’s soundtrack is made up of a number of pop songs of various genres which, off the top of my head, I cannot quite recall. The music is serviceable and does the job of punctuating the film’s narrative beats but there isn’t anything that particularly stuck with me after the film’s credits rolled. It’s not at all bad but it’s not good either and I don’t have much more to add in my analysis.
Overall, I don’t think I can really recommend Buffaloed. Perhaps there is something I’m missing but I just could not connect with the avaricious protagonist in her quest for lucre. This alienation unfortunately undercut a lot of the film’s humour and my ability to enjoy it as a comedy. The film’s visuals and audio weren’t anything particularly inspired by my own analysis although I did appreciate the homage to one of my favourite films I got to review. Overall, I don’t know if there’s enough here for me to recommend the film to anyone.