It’s probably worth mentioning before I begin my review of Buffaloed that, as a native Buffalonian, I might be a tiny bit biased. I spent the first 18 years of my life on the outskirts of the scrappy, perennially optimistic city in Western New York, which means I can tell you with heartbreaking accuracy where I was during game six of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals when Brett Hull and the Dallas Stars robbed the Sabres of their first ever championship. When I moved to Massachusetts at 18, I had to train myself to say soda instead of pop, lest I be ridiculed (although let’s be real: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, BOSTON). And I am confident this year, as I am every year, that the Bills are going to the Superbowl.
All this is to say that when I watched this film, I was laser-focused on any inaccuracies in its depiction of my beloved hometown. I’m going to get those out of the way first.
- The accents sound WAY further into the Midwest — more Wisconsin than anything you would find in New York.
- Advertising a gathering as having “pizza and pop” is not a thing. Pizza and wings, MAYBE.
- The number of people drinking Genny and calling people jag-offs is vastly overstated.
- Also, the characters can’t pronounce Lackawanna correctly. Or ok, I guess they’re pronouncing it correctly, but not the way that a person from Buffalo would, which are two very different things.
And then some things that Buffaloed unquestionably got right:
- I clocked someone wearing Bills zubaz in the background. Yes. Accurate.
- Characters using “Go Bills” as just sort of a generic greeting is pretty spot on.
- The concept of cops AND criminals stopping mid-arrest to celebrate the Bills scoring a touchdown is something that speaks to the deepest, most intimate part of my soul.
But anyway, the movie: Buffaloed is the story of a (borderline sociopathic?) young woman, Peg (Zoey Deutch), who is heavily invested in obtaining financial independence. Growing up in a single-parent home after her father died, she’s determined to avoid the cycle of poverty. And to do so, she engages in a series of schemes, many of which many not be legal in the most traditional sense of the word.
Her side hustle scalping fake tickets to Buffalo Bills games sees her end up in prison and, upon release, she turns her attention to the shady but lucrative world of debt collection. It’s in this part of the film that Buffaloed takes on a similar tone to The Big Short, where it breaks the fourth wall to explain real, incredibly harmful business practices to the audience within the context of a fictional narrative. Debt collection is an unbelievably exploitative line of work, and as an almost completely unregulated industry, it functions as little more than a mob shakedown. (For more details, watch John Oliver’s segment on debt buyers.) But you can make some real cash in it if you know how to manipulate people and have absolutely zero scruples. Naturally, Peg’s a perfect fit.
Perhaps the greatest weakness in the film is that Peg’s motivations are too broad and thinly sketched. She wants money, but is that…it? Deutch shines in the scenes where she’s given the freedom to be the young female version of an old-timey snake oil salesman, clever, fast-talking, and endlessly inventive. But there are times when the character’s almost a bit too frenetic, and her motivations feel muddled. Her willingness to steamroll over everyone in her life grows tiring, and the decision to have her character narrate the film shows a self-obsession that is perhaps fitting, but hardly endears her to the audience. Still, any issues here are down to the writing, and Deutch attacks the role with a wild-eyed tenacity that does her credit. Judy Greer continues her track record as one of the most reliably charming supporting actors in the industry today as Peg’s long-suffering single mother, and Noah Reid (of Schitt’s Creek fame) provides a warm presence as her almost preternaturally good-natured brother, the contented foil to Peg’s out of control ambition.
Buffaloed is undoubtedly flawed, but it nevertheless has an appealingly populist message that feels particularly in tune with the working class city it’s set in. The film is at its strongest when it focuses on the injustices of exploitative debt collection practices — the elderly woman with dementia who has been preyed upon to pay off a debt several times over, the people in poverty who are held hostage by decades old debt. These moments make it easy to forgive its faults — Buffaloed, like the city it’s named for, has its heart in the right place.
Directed by: Tanya Wexler
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Judy Greer, Jai Courtney