Lay the Favorite (2012) – Review

3 Stars

Oscar nominated director Stephen Frears tells the true story of Beth (Rebecca Hall), a Florida stripper that’s moved to Las Vegas to become a cocktail waitress, but gets sidetracked by the gambling scene. Dink (Bruce Willis) recognizes Beth’s talent with numbers, and puts her to work as his assistant. While learning the ins and outs of gambling from Dink, Beth finds herself falling for him. Dink’s crazed wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) gets in the middle and forces him to fire her. Cast out, Beth finds herself in New York with a guy she just met (Joshua Jackson) and working for an insane shady bookie (Vince Vaughn). Soon she’s in over her head with the Feds possibly on her tail. Can Beth fix things without ruining anyone’s life and get the happy ending she’s been searching for?

Lay the Favorite is based on the memoirs of Beth Raymer of the same title. The film’s pacing and plot progression feel like some-one’s real life, which greatly adds to the adventure of a single gal stepping up and trying to make something of herself in a man’s world. The script by past Frears collaborator D.V. DeVincentis is sharp, witty and full of rich characters. This is no doubt helped by Beth Raymer’s source material.

What really stands out here is the ideal casting effort with every character’s trait seeming to come naturally from the actors. The incredibly naive and bubbly performance by Rebecca Hall creates a main character that can easily become too confident and get in over her head; she’s the perfect blend of smart and dumb. Fans of Willis will be happy to hear he’s actually in this film rather than the 10-20 minute cameo’s we’ve been getting. He’s dead-on as Dink, a sort of emotional father figure that lives just on the outside of what most people would consider an upstanding career. But he’s nowhere near as slimy as Vince Vaughn’s Rosie. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Joshua Jackson round off the immaculate cast as Dink’s jealous wife and Beth’s wide eyed boyfriend.

Stephen Frears’ simple direction doesn’t get in the way of an uncomplicated yet interesting plot full of seedy and colorful characters. If you enjoy gambling or heist films then Lay the Favorite is a great watch for a quiet evening at home.

Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson

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