"Lay the Favorite" Among Stephen Frears' Worst

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Dec. 7, 2012

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Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall star in Stephen Frears' "Lay the Favorite."

The IMDb is clogged with modestly-budgeted, star-studded product not fit for mass release, but few have been helmed by an accomplished two-time Oscar nominee. The only moment in Lay the Favorite, a listless gambling comedy, to cause a bump on the EKG meter is the director credit at the end: It’s not some anonymous hack, as you’d have every reason to assume, but Stephen Frears, of My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liasons, The Grifters, The Queen and others. Frears is a terribly inconsistent filmmaker, more journeyman than artist, but his work tends to have a base competence. Lay the Favorite seems to have been made by someone who has stopped caring. It’s heartbreaking.

His cast, however, has–save Joshua Jackson, snoozy as ever–not stopped caring, which turns out to be a problem. Any sensible director would have reined them in, but Frears allows grotesque performances that are as keyed-up as his filmmaking is disinterested. Chief among these is Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, etc.), playing a ditzy ex-stripper who “aspires” to be a cocktail waitress and winds up embroiled in the world of bookies. Hall, a serious and excellent actress, tries hard the way someone who doesn’t do comedy does comedy. Her wide-eyed performance appears to be a broad impersonation of Judy Greer, making one wonder why they didn’t just hire Judy Greer. Hall’s Beth, who turns out to be a savant for this kind of employment, is paired with Dink, a Vegas gambling vet who enters into a relationship that’s part-business, part-flirtation, which enrages his sweary gold digger wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, horrifically miscast and cruelly lit).

Hypoethetically, one ought to cherish a Bruce Willis performance in which he actually cares. This is a banner year for him, with two soulful turns in excellent films (Moonrise Kingdom and Looper), but he ought to have treated Lay the Favorite with the same regal disdain he reserves for the likes of Cop Out. Instead, his exuberance–like that of his character’s rival, played by a more-obnoxious-than-usual Vince Vaughn—adds to the tonal disconnect where over-the-top performances play out before lifeless filmmaking by a filmmaker who, once upon a time, actually gave a shit.

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1. X-TON said... on Mar 9, 2013 at 09:57PM

“Now I'm not gonna break bad on Bruno for making disposable crap comedies in his old age...in fact I have no interest in this film other than the decision to cast Hugo Armstrong in a minor role. The reason I have a problem with this is that Hugo Armstrong is precisely the kind of individual who could rape a woman and get away with it by convincing everyone she was crazy. I know this because I'd be just like that girl.....but I refuse to let him get away with anything. He was my friend for years without revealing to me that he was involved with a malicious cult...or that he was doing things behind my back to destroy my life the entire time. On the set of a short film we made together called "BIKE THIEF."..he threatened to have my neck broken and everyone in my family killed. The only point of "BIKE THIEF" was to subject to a program this cult practices on un suspecting individuals who are ALWAYS taken advantage of. I can either frustrate myself by being silent...or destroy my own reputation by challenging the intellectual curiosity of random strangers by spreading the truth whenever I see the bastards name. I don't mind being called crazy...especially since I've had my facts in order since my trip to the emergency room in 2004.....it's called covert harassment...and cults get away with it because people like Hugo Armstrong help them to convince outsiders that individuals such as myself are insane. I've been at this for a while and no one has come forward to even challenge me. there's a reason for this. Don't cast Hugo Armstrong in anything...unless you want to hear from his college roomate. That'd be me. I can't be stopped because I'm telling the truth and my right to free speech is apparent. I have a silly name because I'm a rock artist. The "e" in my name is short....so it isn't "zeke"...I really hate that in fact...It's ZEK...ZEK LIGHTNING. Thank you.”


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