Buffaloed: Zoey Deutch Kicks Debt's Ass
“Here’s the thing,” Peggy Dahl (Zoey Deutch) says to her boyfriend and the prosecutor who once put her in jail. “There’s gotta be interest before there’s conflict.” Buffaloed, Tanya Wexler’s first film since 2011’s Hysteria, has a lot of conflict. Peggy ricochets off nearly every person in her life, and Zoey Deutch plays her like a super-charged slinky, able to move in one direction only and picking up speed as she nears rock-bottom. And yet it’s when Buffaloed pulls focus away from Peggy’s journey – when it slows down to add the humanity of her relationships – that it is most effective. Buffaloed follows in the footsteps of the acid-laced, direct-to-camera, morality play comedies of Adam McKay – instead of Vice President Dick Cheney or the 2007-08 housing bubble, it tells the story of the predatory, unregulated debt collection industry. Only when comparing it to McKay’s self-satisfied cinematic diatribes could Buffaloed be considered subtle, but it’s an important distinction: even when audiences may not care about Peggy, the film is (mostly) more interested in her than it is in pushing its message. It saves its one-two punch to an ethically bankrupt industry for the final moments, and in doing so, lands a near-fatal knockout. Deutch is clearly the centerpiece and the standout, the crazy glue that holds the movie together. The film tracks Peggy’s spiral into the debt collection industry in an attempt to do what her parents never could: make money and get the hell out of Buffalo. Deutch gives an indelibly physical performance, an exercise in controlled chaos that immediately grabs your attention and rarely lets it go. It’s a testament to Deutch that in the few scenes where she explains the inner workings of the industry – either to her newly recruited employees or directly to the audience – her energy overwhelms the otherwise thorny, arcane exposition. Peggy opens one of the first such moments with the accurate diagnosis that the industry “wants you to be confused.” The movie certainly doesn’t, and Wexler does a good job juggling multiple complex concepts and storylines without tripping over her own feet. It necessitates a heavier emphasis on plot than on character, threatening to leave us feeling exhilarated but empty after a 95-minute roller coaster ride. Thankfully, Wexler makes room for two important scenes late in the movie that drive home what this single-minded pursuit of profit can do to the people we love. In two one-on-one conversations with her mother (Judy Greer) and brother (Noah Reid), Peggy slows down, and suddenly her manic myopia comes off as sad desperation. Greer in particular makes the most of her screen-time, layering what could have been a cliché character with decades of history just beneath the surface. The opening gambit, a “that’s me, Peggy” narration during a brief glimpse into the film’s climax, is an unfortunate misstep, doing little to add to the moment when it eventually returns over an hour later. But in the interim, it’s alternatingly funny and poignantly honest (“are you happy?” “I will be, that’s what matters”). It has a very specific sense of place (Buffalo), and pays particular attention to food, clothing, and those cursed Bills. Buffaloed is the type of movie that could have been a surprise hit, released in 400 theaters, slowly expanding through word of mouth. It’s the type of movie that my parents and friends who see one movie a month would see and then ask me if I’ve seen, or tell their friends about, or randomly quote one of the many absurd, idiosyncratic lines. It’s sad that it won’t get the chance. Buffaloed has a little bit of everything, and it does all of it pretty well – plus it lands one of the most kickass final lines of the year.