Learning The Ropes
Bruce Willis is everywhere it seems, from reprising his iconic role in John McClane for the fifth time, to being called on as the Original Joe in the G.I. Joe franchise. Soon he will be seen in yet another follow up film to Red, inspired by the graphic novel, and that pretty much sums up a busy release schedule in 2013. But here comes Lay the Favourite where he plays a character that's uniquely different from all of the rest so far - he doesn't wield a gun, and gone are the wisecracks. Instead, he's a serious gambler, so serious that he's made a business out of his passion, and doing so legally in the state of Nevada, USA.
But this is not the story about Bruce Willis' Dink, but rather, one that's purportedly based on the memoirs of an exotic dancer who made good while working under the tutelage of Dink, but not before some shenanigans that expectedly occur along the way, pulling in some serious lessons in life about nursing an addiction, whether the thrill of the win, or for the affections of someone. It's about Beth (Rebecca Hall), a freelance exotic dancer who decides that it's times up for her current career, and decided to embark on a new one as a casino cocktail waitress in Las Vegas.
Stroke of luck would have her meet Dink, who runs his own company, getting revenues from making bets against the odds (hence the title) for every conceivable sport and for every conceivable play. If you, like me, think that this is one film that will reveal to you the secrets to sports betting and making a career out of it, well, think again, as these scenes really just gloss over the bare basics, lest it be known as an elementary 101 instructional manual for professional gaming. But it is through this premise that life lessons get imparted, from knowing when to quit, not be greedy, to knowing how to operate within set limits.
And it's about discovering one's talents too. For Beth, her uncanny skill with numbers, and being the only female operative in Dink Inc puts her in good steed amongst Dink's peers in the industy, and for a while she personified Dink's good luck charm, until Dink's wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) comes frowning especially when being threatened by a nubile upstart whom she can feel starting to bear some pangs of infatuation for her husband, who had lifted her self esteem. This leads to another automatic rote expectation of how romance will figure into the plot, with Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) being the goody two shoes boyfriend that Beth hooks up with.
Lay the Favourites tend to go all over the place narratively, with director Stephen Frears unable to keep a solid grasp on the story to keep it focused. It developed much like Beth's scatterbrain, hitting multiple plot points at the same time, and didn't fully develop their potential. There were solid moments when the story angled into a lessons learnt in how we sometimes bite the hand that feeds us. Its romance didn't go beyond the perfunctory, while the comedy seemed to be reined in for the most parts instead of letting it rip. Having Vince Vaughn play the chief antagonist guaranteed a riot of a time, until you realize that he's somewhat restrained in delivery of some of the best lines in the film that belonged to his character.
While this may not be Stephen Frears' best work, it still contained little takeaways through its themes, of heeding advice from experienced hands, and not be seduced by things that are too good to be true, because it's a high chance that they are. Bruce Willis may be playing against type here, but he does seem a tad uncomfortable in the role. Rebecca Hall however was at her element here as the trashy girl discovering her talents and herself, making good of her potential, but the rest of the supporting cast, such as Zeta-Jones who was really pedestrian, failed to keep up with her energy. Lay the Favourite is a valiant attempt that ultimately proved that the odds were stacked against its favour from the start.