Buffaloed

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Buffaloed
"Deutch has great comic timing and completely convinces as the sort of fast talking, wise-cracking hustler who could pull this kind of thing off." | Photo: Guy Godfree

So here you are, reading a review of Buffaloed. Who could guess at the chain of events that landed you in this crazy situation?

Yes, it's that one again, resounding like a last blast of the hipster horn before we enter a new decade and, with a bit of luck, leave some overused cheesy film formats behind us. Tanya Wexler's tale of shady goings-on among debt collectors in upstate New York is distinctive only because it has a female lead and, from time to time, reveals a more offbeat sense of humour. It hits all the beats you'd expect in precisely the order you'd expect. If you're yet to become tired of this and you're looking for a slice of undemanding entertainment, it will serve you well enough - just don't expect it to do much beyond that.

At the centre of it all is Peg (Zoey Deutch), the bored daughter of a single mother, who seems to have little going for her beyond the gift of the gab, and whose petty cons land her in prison within minutes of the film starting. To Peg, however, everything is an opportunity. She learns, she makes friends. Back on the outside, she talks her way into a job as a debt collector, familiarises herself with the trade and then, the moment she's mistreated, decides it's time to set up on her own. Enlisting every smooth talking chancer she's ever met to staff her new venture, she even goes so far as to invite her former employer's brother to join her.

Naturally, that sort of play doesn't go down too well with said former employer, Wizz (Jai Courtney). Peg is lucky in that this is not one of those areas where people simply get their rivals shot, but that doesn't mean they intend to play fair. To complicate things further, as the two companies descend into an increasingly vicious feud, she finds herself falling for Graham (Jermaine Fowler), a lawyer who specialises in investigating the industry and who was the prosecutor in her first trial. Though she knows how to exploit his interest in her, she can't put him off doing his duty - and worse, he's hesitant to sleep with her whilst she's working with debt.

Deutch has great comic timing and completely convinces as the sort of fast talking, wise-cracking hustler who could pull this kind of thing off, but as Peg is ultimately quite a shallow character (she does have empathy but it takes her a while to locate it), there's only so much she can do to make her interesting. As her impetuousness and the cleverness of her words become familiar, the film wears a bit thin. It's left to Lusia Strus as the former sex worker who becomes part employee and part mentor to give the film some emotional weight and generate tension by reminding the audience of what's at stake, with neither poverty nor prison looking like very appealing options. Meanwhile, family members try to explain to Peg how she's continuing to screw up their lives, and hint that the breakneck pace at which she throws herself into everything may be sabotaging her own interests as well.

There's some good work here but the pacing is uneven and hasty explanations of how the debt recovery business works may leave viewers unclear as to exactly what's going on. Whilst Wexler deserves praise for the way she uses the popular comedy format to alert people to scams that will have affected quite a few of them directly, and whilst it's refreshing to see a female character getting to be this mercenary, Buffaloed lacks the substance to really make its presence felt.

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2019
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A woman finds her calling in an ethically debatable industry - debt collecting.

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Tribeca 2019

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