“Greed is good!” was the cry of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s classic Wall Street. Playing Jordan Belfort, Leonardo Di Caprio celebrated his ill-gotten wealth with all the joy of a child at Christmas in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that money was simply a man’s game. And then something like Buffaloed comes along to remind you that the supposed ‘fairer sex’ have clout in the financial game.
Directed by Tanya Wexler (Hysteria), the film follows the machinations of Peg Dahl (Zoey Deutch, Zombieland: Double Tap), a self-described hustler trying to escape her humdrum existence in Buffalo, New York. Peg, as she informs us via numerous fourth wall-breaking monologues, is naturally gifted when it comes to money and the ways of making it. Starting off as a child selling her mother’s chicken wings to people on the street, Peg goes on to make a quick buck in high school selling cigarettes, before eventually selling fake tickets to baseball games after graduation. The latter activity comes about when Peg is invited to enrol at a prestigious ivy league school. With her father dead, her mother (Judy Greer, Archer) barely able to make ends meet, and her brother (Noah Reid, Schitt’s Creek) trying to be legit, Peg tries to do the right thing by doing the wrong thing. Which eventually leads to Peg being pegged for fraud and going to jail.
Cut to three years later and with a criminal record under her belt, Peg’s chances of carving a career for herself in Wall Street are well and truly dead. Plus, there’s the legal fees she still needs to pay that are biting at her heels. Enter Wizz (Australia’s own Jai Courtney, Suicide Squad), a villainous piece of work who makes money as an incredibly shifty debt collector who offers Peg a chance to make it big.
Wexler’s direction bristles with energy and, at times, reminds you of the first time you saw Henry Hill trying to run a drug deal, whilst avoiding police helicopters and getting his brother to keep stirring the sauce in the final act of Goodfellas. That nervous, panicky energy that can lead you towards doing something spectacular or horrific.
The biggest strength at the centre of this film is Deutch as the motor-mouthed peg. Unable to stay quiet for more than a minute, she is an avalanche of bad deeds laced with good intentions. Deutch not only plays Peggy like she’s the smartest person in the room, but also like Peg fully knows her hierarchy in the intelligence stakes. When Wizz tries to blow her mind with debt collecting science, she plays dumb to keep him on side, but not before stopping the film to give the audience a rundown of how debt collection in America works. Spoiler alert: it’s not pleasant.
Where Buffaloed loses momentum is during the romance the film tries to build between Peg and dreamboat lawyer Graham (Jermaine Fowler, Bojack Horseman). Having been the prosecutor that put Peg away in the first place, Buffaloed tries to go for a “will they? won’t they?” subplot that is ditched for an obvious answer before you’ve had a chance to catch your breath. Nothing is really made of the having the two together and Graham’s role is reduced to nothing more than furrowing his brow every time Peg claims she’s gone legit. Hell, this is the same kind of role given to many a woman with a male shyster in the lead, so perhaps we shouldn’t complain too much, eh?
Fun and cynical at the same time, Buffaloed takes a running kick to modern America’s obsession with wealth and boots it into 2021.
‘Buffaloed’ is on Australian digital platforms from September 9th.