Buffalo, the city of chicken wings and jagoffs, and a stagnating economy—more about that later. The town where you get born in and your only goal in life is to get out of it swiftly. But that may be more of a problem than Peg (Zoey Deutch) imagined. Two traits that define Peg: ambition and not so good sense of moral values. Peg is someone who never stops; she is always on the move, which is exactly how she is introduced to the audience: in media res running towards her nemesis.
Peg is an ex-con living with her mother (the always perfect Judy Greer) who is running a hair salon in her house illegally. She is appalled at what her daughter has become and is attempting to do with her life, despite not the most law-abiding citizen herself. Fresh out of prison she is sniffing out the next hustle and the debt collecting industry seems to be right up Peg’s alley after she explains to the debt collector how to do his job over the phone.
You may recently remember Deutch as the ditzy Madison in Zombieland: Double Tap and from several other films of different genres (Set It Up, Before I Fall) but she seems the most comfortable in a comedy. Here she gets to show off her off-the-cuff frenetic charm, the character’s obnoxiousness, and cockiness: precisely the type of hustler who wants to get by in the underworld and perhaps come out on top as well.
Peg starts her debt collecting future at an agency run by the Wizz (perhaps the best performance by Jai Courtney yet, he is unlikable, goofy and fun in that sleazy way, in that 90’s villain sleaze). Peg quickly proves her worth when she beats the boys in the company at their own debt-collecting game when can she collects the most out of the entire office. It is the most natural thing ever for her—debt collecting is just another kind of sales. Thinking she can do better, Peg starts her own company filled with misfits and outsiders. This upsets Wizz, and all the other debt-collecting agencies in town as well. There is a small war brewing. And Peg actually finds some morality in her goals and career. Some. A little bit.
There is one character who provides the moral ground of the film: Graham (Jermaine Fowler), the attorney at law, and Peg’s somewhat love interest. Somewhat because he tries to get Peg to steer clear from illegal activities and Peg exploits him for access to legal information. Typical Buffalo relationship. Did I forget he is also the junior prosecutor who sent Peg to prison previously? Graham is the only character who doesn’t act solely for their own selfish needs. Peg might have her own rookie debt-collecting agency featuring a call girl or the woman who used to beat Peg up in prison, but she doesn’t seem to care for them. She doesn’t intend to harm others, but sometimes inadvertently, she does, never by intent. Graham is the one to balance it out and remind the viewer that this is what proper selfless behavior should be like: someone that cares about others and their community above themselves.
The Buffalo city is pictured as a city of low-lives, people that only take pride in their chicken wings and their football team. Nothing else in this town. Buffaloed is primarily a comedy but the film doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the dramatic beats either. It feels heavily influenced by The Big Short as Peg addresses the audience/the camera on several occasions and gives the audience the 101 on something—be it the economy or debt-collection. The central theme is very reminiscent of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, that grimy gangster film where a poker game is robbed and a hitman is hired to take care of the robber. The film serves as an analogy for how the economy works and ends with a line “America is not a country; it’s a business”. Buffaloed paints a similar picture, only more lightheartedly. It doesn’t feature a downer ending; the characters win…a little bit. Peg does whatever she can to escape this one-dog town and her plan of getting just enough money in her shoebox and run away is seriously flawed, but she makes it in the end. She has just enough to escape, and apparently that is in her cards for the future—that and taking down and being on top in another money-driven, industry.
There is a certain timelessness to this film; the time period is quite indeterminate 20th/21st century. There are no smartphones in sight, and the computers also look like they might be from the ’80s,’90s or early 2000s. Perhaps putting a specific timestamp to the story would steal from the message. The debt-collecting problem is one that is not going away, and the story of someone trying to escape their ‘rotten’ hometown is universal as well. It could take place anywhere in the U.S. or Europe and at any time.
Buffaloed features a great script, and is an effortlessly paced story that eschews a satirical (and tutorial) look at debt collecting and economy in the U.S, featuring a comedy gem performance by Zoey Deutch. Tanya Wexler is a great comedy director. I hope to see more of her work in the future. Same goes for Deutch; she is a comedy whirlwind.