Set in the city of Buffalo, the film follows Peg (Zoey Deutch – Before I Fall), a young woman who has dreamed about escaping the city for her entire life. With her Dad out of her life since a very early age, Peg watched as her mother, Kathy (Judy Greer – Jurassic World), struggled to make ends meet and ultimately run up so much debt that calls from debt-collection agencies are almost a daily occurrence.
Peg does all she can to try to educate herself in an attempt to break out of this lifestyle, and when she watches her brother JJ (Noah Reid – Schitt’s Creek) open up his own bar she decides that it is time to live her own dreams. But after a small misdemeanour she finds herself put into jail by prosecutor Graham (Jermaine Fowler – BoJack Horseman). Upon her release life is even more surprising as she finds herself having to work for a debt-collection agency under the control of the ruthless Wizz (Jai Courtney – Suicide Squad).
The power of Buffaloed comes from its witty and original screenplay that is brilliantly brought together by director Tanya Wexler (Girl With No Name). In a lot of ways Buffaloed is played out with the intensity of a stage play. There are many dialogue-driven scenes that pack the punch of an action film whether it be Deutch going toe-to-toe with unrecognisable Jai Courtney or moments of true realisation when Peg realises that her life is a mess and that it isn’t going to be easy to fix.
The true power of this film though comes from the characterisation. Despite her obvious flaws, and criminal activity, Peg is a likable character. I never in my life thought I would see a movie where a debt collector was made likable but somehow screenwriter Brian Sacca (The Definition Of Sex) does just that. You want to see Peg win in life, but you also understand the obstacles that she must face.
What separates Buffaloed from so many of the ‘feel-good’ movies out there is that not everything in her life is easy to overcome and the obstacles that are placed there are believable. Sure the film might be making a statement about ‘debt culture’, but it is also showing that there are ways out of it if you put your mind to it.
When it comes to characterisation, Sacca’s script also brings the minor characters into play in a big way. Like so much of this movie the relationship between Graham and Peg is believable even if it is freshly unexpected. The fact that the team that Peg brings together to form her company is each given a character trait shows the power of Sacca’s writing, as does the fact that Peg’s brother JJ is so three dimensional that he becomes another character that you find yourself barracking for.
Sacca’s screenplay also allows for some amazing performances in the film. There is no doubting that Deutch makes a massive statement in this film. She is often cast in the ‘supporting role’ in films like Zombieland: Double Tap, but people have forgotten just how good she was in films like Before I Fall. Here, though, Deutch takes a huge step and breaks out of that ‘teenage’ role stigma. She is strong, confident and shows Hollywood that she is more than ready to be a leading lady with a performance that needs to be seen to be believed.
Likewise, Jai Courtney also takes that big step we knew that he was capable of. Sure he has had some big roles in movies like A Good Day To Die Hard and Terminator Genisys but here Courtney gets a chance to show off his real acting ability. His character acting style that he brings to the character of Wizz is something that we haven’t seen from him before. He is sensational in the role and makes Wizz a truly menacing antagonist.
With its powerful script Buffaloed is one of the genuine finds of 2020. Not only does it show a different side to the acting of Zoey Deutch and Jai Courtney but also announces the arrival of Tanya Wexler as a director to look out for in the future. Witty and heartfelt, this may well be one of the most underrated films of 2020.
Buffaloed is for an adult audience and is currently available on a number of streaming platforms.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus