A stripper named Beth (Rebecca Hall) leaves her small Florida town to find a better life in Las Vegas, but things get complicated when she forms a relationship with a bookie (Bruce Willis). Based on the book by Beth Raymer. Also stars Catherine Zeta Jones, Vince Vaughn and Joshua Jackson.
Directed by Stephen Frears
What in the world happened, Stephen Frears? The director of The Queen, High Fidelity, and The Grifters managed to take an interesting, real-life story (by the real Beth Raymer) and a great cast (Willis, Jones Hall, etc.) and somehow made a completely average film. Lay the Favorite isn’t bad, but for all the pedigree involved, you expect much better.
Lay the Favorite should have been a quirky character drama, but fails to provide an interesting story or engaging characters. Somehow, the screenplay made gambling seem boring, and Frears cannot set the right tone to make this work. It jumps from one place to another, and it makes for a long 90 minutes, even for fans of the actors involved.
Hall plays the small town girl who is smarter than she first appears to be, and while she manages to convincingly play the sweet-hearted Beth, her character here is more annoying than enduring. Bruce Willis knows how to turn on the charm as usual, but his character seems cardboard and unreal. His character of Dink, the gambler with the heart of gold, just doesn’t seem believable. When he turns sad sap over the fact that he won’t cheat on his horrible, jealous wife (a totally wasted Catherine Zeta Jones), it makes it difficult to think that a person with shifting morals could be so principled.
The problem here is the screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis (Grosse Pointe Blank), which tries to substitute quirky characters for an interesting story. However, the characters are undeveloped and rarely make you laugh, much less care. When Beth’s personal journey takes her away from home, and then away from Vegas and Dink, the different locales give the film even less focus. Hall’s character can’t carry the film on her own, and even the addition of Joshua Jackson (Fringe) as the love interest fails to generate any sparks.
The only saving grace of Lay the Favorite is the star power of all involved. Even as uninteresting as their characters are, Willis and Hall have enough charisma not to totally bore you to tears. Just as you realize the gambling storyline isn’t working, Frears throws Catherine Zeta Jones, or Joshua Jackson, or Vince Vaughn at the screen like a shiny new thing. A number of supporting actors pop in and out (including Corbin Bernsen and Laura Prepon) with little to no consequence. By the end, you’ll wonder what was the point of the whole movie.
The bright lights of Vegas, and the characters that live their lives in its glow, have never been so boring or inconsequential. For Frears, that is perhaps an achievement in itself.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The high definition video is excellent, with a sharp image without grain or artifacting. Even the seedy side of Las Vegas looks great. The cinematography isn’t very special, but it is distinctive. As the locales change from urban to beaches to New York City, each has its own color palette and look that provide nice contrasts. Colors are strong throughout, while skin tones remain natural. The audio is DTS 5.1 HD-MA, and provides a nice balance between dialogue and the music featured throughout the soundtrack.
Eleven deleted scenes are included. They are mostly snippets here and there clipped off the end of scenes already in the film, and don’t add much to the viewing experience.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall grade: 6.75
Lay the Favorite may not deliver on its premise, but at least you get to see a lot of really good actors for an hour and a half. It isn’t nearly as good as you hope, and the performances are undermined by a sub-par script. One viewing will be enough for most, so this is strictly in the “RENT” category.
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Running time: 94 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Special features: Eleven deleted scenes