Should audiences take a chance on Lay the Favorite? Let’s look at the pros and cons (or in this case, the losses and wins) of Anchor Bay Entertainment and Radius-TWC’s latest flick, which hits shelves March 5, 2013.
Instead, the cast is full of caricatures played by familiar faces: Rebecca Hall (The Town) stars as Beth, the small-town dancer with a knack for letters and numbers, who finds herself taking and making bets for professional gamblers after she moves to Sin City; Bruce Willis (The Die Hard Franchise) plays Dink, the short-tempered, slightly suicidal, Las Vegas bookie with a troubled past and a heart of gold who thinks Beth is his good luck charm; Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) comes in as his fierce yet loving wife who agrees to let Beth work for her husband in exchange for— wait for it—a face lift; Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers) appears (as he often does) as a loud, boisterous, and over-the-top competitor/colleague named Rosie, whose “not totally legal” business ventures are based out of another city; and Joshua Jackson/my 5th grade crush (Dawson’s Creek) shows up as Jeremy, the stable, sane, completely normal, and slightly boring love interest to Beth, who inevitably finds himself caught up in her drama when he agrees to help her with a client. These are all talented actors who have made me laugh and cry in their other work: so why were they so one-dimensional and wooden here? I have to say, I expected more from them (especially you John McClane). Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) isn’t off the hook either: he’s been nominated for two Academy Awards for other films and should have been able to bring out better performances.
I know some films, especially those that don’t have a wide theatrical release, may not have the budget to film at beautiful and exotic locations. Still, if you’re going to make a film about a person whose adventures take her from exciting places like Las Vegas to New York to Curacao and back, I want to see more than 2 slot machines at a seedy casino, a tall building and stairwell that presumably lead to Jeremy’s tiny apartment, and what I am praying was a not a green-screen shot of the sun and water outside of Rosie’s beach-side business. As a viewer, I wanted to get swept away in Beth’s crazy life. That didn’t really happen, and it made me feel detached from her story.
What luck, as the whole movie was based on the “real” Beth Raymer’s best-selling memoir, “Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling.” I have decided if I ever meet Ms. Raymer, I will pinch her cheeks, because she comes off as adorable in the film. Her naivety is what really makes her so lovable. I mean, as a Las Vegas local for over two decades, I seriously laughed out loud when Beth said she dreamed of a better life… as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas! Seriously? Oh, Beth! You have so much to learn! Thank goodness you later smartened up, made a lot of money running bets, took your ABC-order talents to college, and became a writer! At one point in the film Dink describes Beth as a “ganef,” which is apparently “Yiddish for small-time lovable thief.” I really hope that word can be used as a term of endearment because it describes her perfectly. My one comment on Beth is that I would be shocked if Rebecca Hall did not choke on a hair ball after filming wrapped: she girlishly twirled her hair around her finger and put her curls in her mouth during three-quarters of the movie.
That’s right, I said it! This movie made me want to gamble! Except… wait! I don’t know anything about sports or betting. I just want to use the term “lay the favorite.”