Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
So here we are again with another movie that's damn near impossible for someone like me to give any kind of commentary that would be worth reading.  I need my movies to be about something, to have some depth to it, even if the depth this movie is mining is gold nuggets of crap.  That gives us something to talk to you about, which is what we do here quite honestly as we don't actually review movies, we just talk to you about them.  This brings us to noted director Steven Frears and his drama / comedy 'Lay the Favorite' which gives me nothing.  It's not particularly bad, it's certainly not good, it's kind of like walking into a Walmart and seeing a litho of great painting.  It's pretty to look at an all, but it has no soul.  That's pretty much the way I felt about 'Lay the Favorite'.

Beth, as played with bubbly wonder by the British darling Rebecca Hall, who seemed to be channeling the ghost of Shannon Elizabeth with her performance, is a heart of gold door to door stripper in Tallahassee who has decided to dump this town for the good life of a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas.

The problem is that apparently, like tenured college professors, cocktail waitresses do that gig until death so that dream is put on hold for poor Beth.  Fortunately she gets turned on to Dink (Bruce Willis) and his gambling enterprise.  We can't get into exactly what Dink does with his gambling enterprise, but it is legal and Beth, along with her head for numbers, is a natural for it.  Unfortunately what is also natural is that when a pretty younger woman gives some attention to a crusty older dude, things happen.  Even if this crusty older dudes wife, Tulip, looks just like Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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Tulip doesn't take too kindly hot younger chicks trying to take her man and let's Dink know she's not happy with the situation, leading Dink to let the young woman, who pines for him so deeply, go on her way.  Beth is sad, but all will be better eventually.  At this point, personally, I'm wondering what this movie is about and I can tell you it's about none of the stuff I just mentioned.  That's all setup and character development I think.

Eventually Beth meets Jeremy (Joshua Jackson), the dashing New York journalist who is in Vegas on holiday, and eventually Beth ends up in New York with young Jeremy.  This movie still isn't about anything in particular at this point, just us watching Beth stumble through life.

Eventually the plot kind of kicks in, more or less, when Beth starts working for Rosie (Vince Vaughn) the New York bookie.  Now Rosie isn't a bad guy or anything, because this movie doesn't really have any bad people in it, despite the fact it deals with gambling, some of it illegal, but through some convoluted rigmarole dealing with Rosie, Beth in Costa Rica… don't ask… some welched bets and Jeremy the Journalist Who Should Know Better doing some illegal bookmaking, Jeremy gets himself into trouble.  Now it's up to Beth and her best friends she left back in Vegas to come together and get Jeremy out of trouble.  Roll credits and be happy.

Recently we saw a film called 'Maximum Conviction' starring Steven Seagal and Stone Cold Steve Austin, in the article we scribbled about that movie we spoke of the Resultant Expectations to Expected Results cinematic theorem.  The results we expected from that film were relatively low, and it surpassed those low expectations.  This movie, directed by Steven Frears who has given us classic gems such as 'High Fidelity' and 'The Queen' just to name a few, and featuring of cast of established stars and hot young up and comers had expectations that were high, but alas the expected result were very disappointing.  Why did this happen?  I don't know and I don't care dissect it too much either, but there was something missing in 'Lay the Favorite' that the skill of Steven Frears, the charm of Bruce Willis, the shtick of Vince Vaughn nor the beauty of Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn't fix.

I guess we could lay the blame for the blasé feel of this film on the shoulders Rebecca Hall who is in virtually every scene in this movie, and true enough her character wasn't all that endearing despite Ms. Hall's best wide-eyed and innocent efforts, and the fact that the only clothes she seemed to own were tank tops two sizes too small and a pair of Daisy Dukes.  But we're not going to saddle the girl with that kind of responsibility, because we've seen Rebecca Hall in plenty of films and we know she can act.  No, with most movies such as this that fail, ones where budget and talent isn't an issue, it usually comes down to the story that they are trying to tell us.  Basically 'Lay the Favorite' is about Beth's adventures, and Beth isn't all that interesting to follow around for ninety plus minutes.  Considering the plot is threadbare, Beth has no real discernible goal, there's no bad guy, not much conflict, and pretty much everybody in this movie is pleasant, friendly and amiable… if you don't immediately take an interest in watching Beth do whatever Beth does, then I don't think that viewer will take much of an interest in what's going on in this movie.  I guess you could blame Rebecca Hall for not making her character more interesting, but we'd probably opt for blaming a poor adaptation of Beth Raymer's memoir which by all accounts is supposed to be very enjoyable.  I mean they did try to make a movie out of it, right?

If you want to watch a competent film with some attractive stars in it, the by all means roll with 'Lay the Favorite'.  Just keep your expectations low, which will be difficult with the lineup this movie presents to us.
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