It’s rare for a film to feature a female lead brimming with temerity that’s full of so much **** and vinegar you may be afraid she will spin off her own axis. Buffaloed has it here with Deutch, who gives a career-best performance in a film that’s funny, flawed, but always interesting.
There is a scene in the middle of Buffaloed that completely sold me on Tanya Wexler’s dramedy about a tenacious young woman trying to make her fortune off people up to their ears in debt in the Greater Western New York area. When a woman beams with giddiness upon receiving a Crown Royal Boxset with “the fancy glasses,“ I simply can’t tell you how much joy that scene brought me. I’ve personally witnessed this gift being handed to the male members of my family since I was a child growing up in a backwoods suburb of Buffalo, NY. The references to this rustic pocket of America snuggled between two of the great lakes are aplenty, not that anyone is going to get them. You have wings (we don’t preface it with “Buffalo” and just like in the UK you only call that one Thomas’s bakery item a muffin), genny (Beer), Bills (Football), but unfortunately, they decided to hold the Loganberry (Google it).
Zoey Deutch stars as Peg Dahl, a tenacious dreamer who has dreamed of bigger and better things that exist outside her hometown of Buffalo, NY (I’m not sure why we always have to reference NY, but apparently anyone working in New York or Los Angeles would need help locating any city in between the continental United States). Her father has passed on from too much beer, unhealthy food, and stress from year after year of cold, hard disappointing Buffalo Bills seasons. Her mother, Kathy (played by the invaluable Judy Greer), wants Peg to settle down and find a provider. Her brother, JJ (Schitt’sCreek’s Noah Reid), runs a local bar and Sundays is how he pays the bills (no pun intended). Peg, though, is accepted to college, but can’t afford it. To rustle up the cash, she tries to scalp fake Buffalo Bills tickets on Sundays and stumbles into debt collecting, as it’s the city’s number one industry. There, she meets a shady underworld character named Wizz (a very good Jai Courtney) who she makes a deal with: if she becomes his number-one collector, he will wipe her family’s debts clean.
Buffaloed was directed by Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) and written by Buffalo native Brian Sacca (Wrecked), and anyone watching shouldn’t take the film seriously as a slice of Western New York life. It’s more of a caricature (for instance, judges don’t sit around eating chicken wings while conducting a court case… I think), that may be slightly dated based on the region’s resurgence this past decade. The script should be given credit for getting the spirit right, albeit an embellished version. For instance, there is a scene where a police officer is arresting a man, and they both stop to celebrate a Buffalo Bills touchdown that I could almost guarantee would happen in real life; I could also make the case a cop would then let the criminal go with a warning because of it.
Even the accents in the film aren’t really a thing in real life, but here, and like any area, some are thicker than others (I’d refer you to the John Krasinski and Chris Evans Super Bowl commercial, as they are Boston’s natives without a heavy accent). The filmmakers are on record of having to accentuate it so it could come across on film (of all the actors, even Sacca, Jai Courtney really has it down pat). While Sacca’s script does rely on some gimmicks, it could have used more, but I question how well they will translate to anyone outside the area as humorous and could have used more to flesh out a more distinct feel — I would have given anything for a Dingus Day reference and a crack at Anderson Cooper. I do give him credit for some clever foreshadowing, with a literal rotting Buffalo head hanging on a wall; while writing a script where the main attraction, football, has the name “Bills”, which seems appropriate about a debt collection comedy.
Though, the film really is carried on the back by Zoey Deutch here in a role that never lets up with a certain energy you can’t put your finger on. It’s a perfect film choice for her and, in particular, with the #MeToo age we live in. Even in today’s Hollywood machine, it’s still rare for a film to feature a female lead brimming with this type of temerity that’s full of so much **** and vinegar you may be afraid she will then spin off her very own axis. She doesn’t back down to anyone, especially “jag-off” debt collectors. The team here has it with Deutch, who gives a career-best performance. She is consistently funny, with a warts and all showcase that may have some fundamental character decision flaws, but the role always remains interesting and doesn’t have a dull moment.
Buffaloed isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, it’s a bit uneven, hopping back and forth between an almost live-action cartoon, and a political statement on the issue of relieving people of being overbilled on medical and higher-education payments; I half expected a Bernie Sanders cameo of product placement. I, though, would never fault a film for having ambitions. Even more so when you research a series of articles from the New Yorker and the New York Times from 2010-2014 on the lucrative debt collections industry in Buffalo, it gives the film’s script some much-needed credibility.
Overall, I can’t remember any film quite like Buffaloed. Wexler’s film is essentially a live-action comic strip with a central performance from Deutch that elevates her into the big leagues. It’s funny, yet flawed, but always interesting; just like a pair of Zubaz pants being put on one leg at a time, and not only on a Sunday football afternoon.
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M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.