Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein on how they raised the stakes in their new comedy-thriller film
‘Game Night’ directing duo aim to thrill with a sibling black comedy
The writing and directing partnership of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein will lead the forthcoming Flash movie by Warner Bros and DC. Previously, the pair were best known for their writing partnerships on films such as Horrible Bosses and Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as co-writers and directors of the fifth in the National Lampoon series, 2015’s Vacation.
The pair will now direct the DC blockbuster, but before it goes into production, audiences have the opportunity to acquaint themselves further with Daley and Goldstein’s work, with the release of the the comedy/thriller Game Night this weekend. The film features hyper-competitive brothers Max and Brooks, played by Jason Bateman and Kyle Chandler, who, locked in a battle to throw the most realistic role-playing, murder-mystery-type party, start to lose their grasp on which beatings, kidnappings and general criminal skulduggery are real, and which are part of the game.
Unusually for the prolific writing pair, they’ve worked solely as directors on the new film, with the script provided by Disney Writers’ Programme alumnus Mark Perez. Goldstein is magnanimous enough to admit that Perez’s work was one of the key draws of the film. “It was a very smart script with some great plot twists,” he says. “We both loved that it was a different kind of comedy, in that it wasn’t purely a comedy. It gave us an opportunity to do something that was a mash-up of genres, and we keep talking about the film as a comedic thriller. We wanted to try and reinvent the genre a little bit, to keep the audience off-balance. Right away, audiences will sense that they’re watching something that’s, surprisingly, a little ominous. They might start wondering, ‘Oh, I thought this was a comedy.’”
Daley and Goldstein aren’t the first writing duo to share directing duties as well – the pair cite the Coen brothers as a huge influence on their work, for example – but the techniques required to co-direct must be a little different to writing. How do the pair approach the shared role? “Whoever wins the fistfight,” jokes Daley.
Taking a less combative approach, his partner adds: “Because we’ve been writing together for over 10 years, we kind of do it all together. Sometimes we wish we could split it up; we’d probably get more done. But we tend to do it all in the same place and do a lot of preparation before we ever get to set.”
Daley says that, although the pair are generally of a similar mind, it’s the moments when their ideas digress that often produce some of their best work. “We often disagree and that’s actually where some of the best ideas come from, because it’s nice to have a sounding board and someone you can bounce ideas off of and create something more refined than it would be if it were coming from one brain,” he says.
At the heart of Game Night is the chemistry between the lead pairing of married couple Max (Bateman) and his wife Annie, played by Rachel McAdams. Daley and Goldstein reveal that they had a very specific approach when it came to casting – although both their leads have a history working in comedy, more recently they have become appreciated more for their dramatic work, in particular McAdams who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 2015’s Spotlight.
The directors say they were keen to emphasise the drama of the movie rather than the comedy. “Our main note with all the actors was, don’t play for the comedy,” Daley reveals. “Treat Game Night as though it is a thriller. And the humour inherently comes out of that because you’ve suddenly raised the stakes and you’re not betraying the stakes with jokes.”
The pair took a similar approach with the main cast and crew. Chandler’s recent roles, for example, include parts in well-received dramas such as Manchester by the Sea and Argo. Composer Cliff Martinez makes his comedy debut here, having previously scored several of Steven Soderbergh’s films.
Goldstein, however, admits he was particularly pleased with the success of this approach with the lead couple. “As different as Jason and Rachel are from one another, they share an understated acting style,” he says. “We recently saw Jason in the television series Ozark, which highlights his skills as a dramatic actor. And Rachel has always been a naturalistic actor. You put those two together and it really feels like they’ve been a couple for many years.”
The movie features some stiff competition on its opening weekend in the UAE, with the Oscar-tipped Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and I, Tonya (reviewed left) among the films opening on the same day. So what would Daley say to entice audiences into his own movie over the competition?
“The biggest compliment we got from the early screenings of the film was people saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ in a good way,” he says. “And if most people who experience this movie come away feeling like it was unique and different and special, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.”
Game Night is released in UAE cinemas today