The story of a young hustler drives Tanya Wexler's affable comedy and offers further proof of its lead star's immense talent
It has become a rule of recent times that any movie featuring Zoey Deutch is playing with loaded dice. Since first coming to attention in Richard Linklater's 80s throwback Everybody Wants Some!!, she's brought an exuberant and deeply charismatic presence to every screen role, no matter the size, even when the films themselves are plainly terrible or ill-judged (here's looking at you, Why Him?).
In Netflix rom-com revival Set it Up, Deutch's casting as co-lead came as a revelation; insanely watchable, spirited, and genuinely funny, she allowed a pretty good movie to feel like a pretty great one. Then, as air-headed but loveable Valley Girl Madison in last year's belated sequel Zombieland: Double Tap, she emerged as the film's single, inspired element, stealing the movie out from under big-name stars like Emma Stone and Woody Harrelson.
Tanya Wexler's affable new comedy Buffaloed is essentially a showcase for everything that makes Zoey Deutch so brilliant and irresistible as an actor, played out across 95 very breezy minutes. She's alternately scrappy and plucky and sexy and vulnerable and unpredictable, but her performance never descends into tonal mishmash or scattiness: there is a cohesion, always, a sense of this character as a consistent whole.
As such, the plot here feels almost secondary to the lead performance, telling the story of a twenty-something grifter named Peg Dahl living in blue-collar Buffalo, New York. Peg has an inherent talent for scamming folks and a natural ability for persuading people to do things they otherwise wouldn't consider. In short, she's a hustler, through and through, the likes of which are rarely played by females on screen, but refreshingly so here.
After scalping tickets lands her a stint in prison and lumbered with considerable debt, she worms her way into a job at a debt collection agency and quickly ascends to the top of the ranks. Eventually a falling out with her boss, played with sleazy enthusiasm by a game-for-it Jai Courtney, inspires Peg to start her own business – a decision that brings a whole world of problems with it.
If that all sounds somewhat madcap, it is, but because Deutch sells us on her performance, she sells us the movie, too. Deutch is that rare performer who demands your attention for every second she's on-screen. She can play comedy and drama with equal skill, though she's at her best when working in the spaces between. She has it, whatever “it” is (call it star power!), which is what makes Buffaloed – an otherwise fun but unremarkable film – into something that's actually worth your time.
Comparisons with The Wolf of Wall Street are undeniable and perhaps even purposeful. As Peg assembles a low-rent team of misfits and oddballs in order to start her own debt collection agency, she gives ballsy pep talks in front of white boards and even talks straight into the camera to explain how things work in the business of debt. All the time Deutch exudes the moxie and the energy of a DiCaprio – even if the script isn't quite up to the same standard.
There's an admittedly low budget vibe to the movie, which takes place on cheap-looking sets and in repetitive locations. The dialogue doesn't always land, either, and the film's central romance – Jermaine Fowler plays a nice lawyer who falls for Peg – lacks the chemistry to make their pairing really sing. Yet the rest of the supporting cast – Judy Greer as Peg's put-upon mother, Noah Reid as her well-meaning brother – are committed enough that nobody here feels like they're slumming it.
The result is a punchy little film that feels crafted in service of its lead, offering further proof that Deutch, at just 25, deserves to be one of the biggest stars on the planet.
Buffaloed is now available to rent and stream on various streaming platforms.Where to watch online