‘Lay the Favorite’ doesn’t quite add up | Movie review
“Lay the Favorite,” directed by Stephen Frears and starring Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones, feels like it was made “by the numbers,” writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald. The film is playing at Sundance Cinemas.
Seattle Times movie critic
“Lay the Favorite,” with Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Joshua Jackson. Directed by Stephen Frears, from a screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis, based on the memoir by Beth Raymer. 93 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content, brief drug use and nudity. Sundance Cinemas.
It takes a smart actor to convincingly play dumb — so why does Rebecca Hall, usually so nuanced and clever on screen (“Please Give,” “The Town,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), seem so lost as a clueless small-town stripper turned Las Vegas gambling prodigy in Stephen Frears’ “Lay the Favorite”?
Her performance is crammed full of bits, seemingly from a dim-bulb checklist: hair twiddling, lip biting, excitable bouncing, wide-eyed wonder, slack-jawed blankness. But it never quite adds up to a character; it’s as if she did all the homework but just couldn’t quite tie it together.
In fact, pretty much all of “Lay the Favorite” plays this way; the dots are there, but they don’t connect. It’s a based-on-a-true-story tale of Beth (Hall), who packs up her miniskirts and dog and arrives in Las Vegas with dreams of being a cocktail waitress.
That dream quickly fades, but soon she’s in the employment of sports gambler Dink (Bruce Willis), who realizes that innocent Beth has a knack for his business. Enter Dink’s jealous wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones, nostrils flaring), Dink’s rival bookie Rosie (Vince Vaughn) and Beth’s regular-guy love interest Jeremy (Joshua Jackson).
You can imagine a lively comedy from these elements, but “Lay the Favorite” isn’t it. It’s not incompetent (nor is Hall’s performance), but it feels by-the-numbers, a little slow and surprisingly dull.
Frears, who’s made many great movies in his long career (“The Queen,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “My Beautiful Laundrette”), seems to be coasting here; maybe he needed to gamble a little more, rather than playing it safe.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org