Tribeca Film Review: Zoey Deutch is a Force Of Nature in ‘Buffaloed’

2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Envision the tailgating madness of the Eagles game shown in “Silver Linings Playbook” mixed with some of the financial shenanigans depicted in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It might be an underdeveloped platitude – simply an idea of just how alive “Buffaloed” is, though it consistently blazes its own trail. Featuring a tour de force performance by Zoey Deutch, this comedy is equal parts brash, hilarious, and intelligent. A vehicle showcasing not just Deutch but Judy Greer as well, they both are worthy of awards consideration here. Both actresses go all out in this gem of a movie.

“Buffaloed” is a black comedy, unafraid of being serious when the moment calls for it. Though primarily concerned with entertaining and making its audience laugh, the filmmakers also entice an empathetic connection. The characters are all broad and wildly engaging, yet always dashed with some real Buffalo flavor. The sense of place here is wonderful. If the world of debt collection never seemed like prime real estate for a film, “Buffalo” takes the challenge and runs with the idea with great success.

Since childhood, Peg Dahl (Deutch) has had a single goal on her mind. She wants to make enough money to go to an Ivy League school, and more importantly, to get out of her hometown of Buffalo. A businesswoman all her life, she sees the life her mother Kathy (Greer) leads and wants no part of it. Peg gets into the college of her dreams but has no way of paying for it. So, the young woman sets out to earn the money. Of course, that often can lead to illegal hustling, which lands her in jail. Once out, she’s hounded for her legal fees by debt collectors. Instead of avoiding them or paying up, she’s inspired to join their cause.

Going to work for a sketchy company run by a real slimeball (Jai Courtney), she sees the job as just a form of sales, a quality for which she has a knack. The rest of the employees may utilize legal loopholes, but she uses the power of persuasion. Soon, she’s a star employee, but her boss’ sexual overtures set her out to start a firm of her own.

As her business grows, Peg has to balance new enemies with a potential relationship budding with the lawyer (Jermaine Fowler) who put her in jail. Crimes are committed, violence is heaped toward her, and her family is put in danger. A fun premise set to the visage of a dark atmosphere, though it’s all handled with wit, smarts, and a tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Zoey Deutch thoroughly earns a conversation for Best Actress consideration. Likewise, Judy Greer rightly should be remembered for Best Supporting Actress when “Buffaloed” reaches its wider audience. They’re both sensational, easily turning in the best work of their respective careers. Deutch is engaging, depicting the brains and cunning of Peg in an hilarious yet human way. She’s hypnotically good and audiences won’t be able to take their eyes off of her. Greer takes a broad character and adds even more elements to the margins, making Kathy a memorable supporting role. Some of their bickerings makes for the comedic highlights of the movie. Plus, Jai Courtney shows some comedic chops, finding a role that he’s able to nail.

Director Tanya Wexler and scribe Brian Sacca outdo themselves here. Wexler embraces the working class vibe of upstate New York, while Sacca peppers the script with the verbiage of Buffalo. It looks, feels, and sounds like the city, down to the way the characters talk about wings and the Buffalo Bills. The screenplay also finds some really unusual places to mine for comedy gold. On one occasion, Sacca and Wexler even pull a page from “The Big Short” to explain what debt collection is actually like. Every choice they make pays major dividends. Then, in a brilliant move, they save the biggest laugh for last. As far as the culminating moments are concerned, this is one that will make audiences explode with laughter.

The best film of Tribeca this year, “Buffaloed” is an absolute riot. You’ll laugh consistently, but you’ll also marvel at how intelligent it is. The smarts of the movie are truly what sets it apart, along with Deutch’s amazing performance. Whenever this one gets picked up and comes to theaters, it’s an absolute must see!

Buffaloed” debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27 and is currently seeking distribution.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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