Buffaloed (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Who can stop her?

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I could not help but root for the plucky heroine of Tanya Wexler’s new comedy film “Buffaloed”. Sure, what this young lady does as reaching for her big ambitious American dream is morally and legally questionable to say the least, but it is lots of fun to watch how she really tries hard to overcome obstacles in front of her, and the movie works as a cheerfully sharp satire on the nasty and sleazy side of American capitalism.

At the beginning, we meet its heroine Peggy Dhal (Zoey Deutch), and she tells us about how much she has aspired to be rich and successful since she was very young. Even during that time, she gave a confident presentation on how she would succeed and get out of her shabby neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and she sincerely believed that she could accomplish anything as long as she was equipped with will and determination, but, alas, things did not go particularly well for her. She yearned for good higher education, but her economically struggling family could not help her much, and that eventually led her to an illegal deed which consequently resulted in several years of imprisonment.

Nevertheless, Peggy still does not lose any of her hope and dream. During her prison time, she teaches herself more on economics, and she also gets some real lessons from some other inmates including Frances (Lusia Strus) and Backer (Lorrie Odom). When she is subsequently released on parole, the situation still does not look that optimistic for her with lots of debts on her and her family, but she is determined to do anything for solving this financial trouble, and then there comes an opportunity when she happens to get a phone call from a debt collector on one day. Discerning how clumsy the debt collector is, she comes to think that she can do better, so she promptly goes to where that debt collector works, and that is how she comes to meet a sleazy guy nicknamed Wizz (Jai Courtney), who has been handling a bunch of debt collectors in his small but successful agency.

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Although she has no experience in debt collection, Peggy impresses Wizz enough to get hired by him, and we accordingly get a brief presentation on how Wizz and his employees work. Once he purchases small and big debts from local banks at reasonably cheap price, his employees are demanded to collect money from those debtors as quick and much as possible, and Wizz’s agency has been so far the most lucrative one in the town despite several competing agencies.

Because she is promised that her debt will be erased if she becomes the No.1 employee within a short period of time, Peggy diligently and enthusiastically work on a bunch of debtors assigned to her, and she soon finds that she is natural for this job. No matter how much those debtors try to make an excuse or evasion, she always finds a way to corner and push them hard, and it does not take much for her to surpass many other employees in Wizz’s agency.

However, once she sees how much she has been disregarded by Wizz and his cronies, Peggy decides to start her own debt collection agency, and the movie cheerfully depicts how she establishes her agency step by step. After getting some fund from her caring brother, she recruits a number of various employees including Frances and Backer, and she and they soon commence their work at a place which was initially a cheap beauty parlor.

Thanks to her employees’ diligent efforts coupled with her cutthroat business tactics, Peggy’s agency quickly rises with growing success and profit, and that is surely not welcomed much by Wizz, who is willing to stop his new competitor by any means necessary. After an incident reminiscent of that immortal bloody moment of “Carrie” (1976), Peggy becomes more determined to beat Wizz, and she soon finds herself resorting to dirty tactics, while also making others around her more concerned than before.

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Although the mood eventually becomes a little more serious as already announced to us via the opening scene, the movie does not lose any of cheerful spirit under Wexler’s good direction, and the overall result feels like a more amiable version of “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). It goes without saying that Peggy is often selfish and opportunistic as driven by greed and ambition, but we still like her nonetheless as understanding what makes her tick, and it certainly helps that Zoey Deutch, who was quite hysterical in her scene-stealing supporting turn in “Zombieland: Double Tap” (2019), imbues her character with lots of charm and pluck. We do not approve of everything Peggy did in the name of success, but we still root for her, and you will probably smile when she is ready to go further after getting another valuable life lesson.

The other main cast members surrounding Deutch are also fine in their respective supporting roles. While Lorrie Odom and Lusia Strus are colorful as Peggy’s colleagues/friends, Jermaine Fowler, Judy Greer, and Noah Reid provide some gravitas to the story as the more sensible characters in the film, and Jai Courtney, who has never been better than here in my humble opinion, has a juicy fun with his obnoxious alpha male character.

Although the screenplay by Brian Sacca, who incidentally plays a minor supporting character in the film, delivers the ending in a way a little too easy, it still remains sharp and funny enough to engage us, and Wexler, who previously delighted us with “Hysteria” (2011), deftly handles a number of good comic scenes including the ones involved with a certain kind of junk food. This is surely a lightweight stuff, but it is packed with enough spicy barbs to be savored, and I may want to taste its delicious moments again.

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