Directed by: Tanya Wexler
Premise: A woman with a gift for hustling (Zoey Deutch) gets into the debt collection business. She starts her own collection company which puts her in the crosshairs of unscrupulous local competitors.
What Works: Buffaloed is a going-into-business story but also the kind of capitalist critique that’s become fashionable in American filmmaking since the 2008 financial crash. Buffaloed is well suited to this particular era as it takes the viewer into the shady world of debt collection. The movie explains the business model well, delivering exposition with clever asides that don’t get bogged down in details. Buffaloed portrays debt collection as a predatory business, a semi-legal form of loan sharking, in which hustlers of uncertain moral character try to recover debts. This is the sort of story in which characters must choose between success and integrity. Zoey Deutch plays Peg, a woman from a working class background who wants to transcend her social station. As Peg establishes her business and starts to make money, she drifts toward unethical and criminal behavior because, as the film portrays it, that is exactly where this line of work leads. Deutch is terrific in the lead role. As in many of her other performances, Deutch is a ball of energy but in Buffaloed she is particularly fierce and always watchable. The title of Buffaloed refers to the verb, meaning to bully and cajole, but also to the proper noun – the city of Buffalo, New York, where the story is set. Buffaloed has a vivid sense of place and while the film pokes fun at the city of Buffalo it does so in a mostly affectionate way and with a sense of compassion for the most vulnerable class of citizens who have been victimized by a predatory economic system.
What Doesn’t: Buffaloed struggles with its credibility. Viewers tend to allow comedies more latitude with their story and logic than we do films of other genres. However, Buffaloed is of a piece with films like The Big Short and Thank You for Smoking and this kind of story requires the moviemakers to hew closely to reality. Buffaloed’s credibility is tenuous with the story sometimes playing quite plausibly and at other times taking on the whimsy of a romantic comedy or a television sitcom. The tone of the movie is all over the place and the shifts are sometimes clumsy. The tonal problems are most detrimental to the ending which forces an optimistic conclusion that is too tidy and prevents the movie from landing as effectively as it might with a more ambiguous conclusion.
DVD extras: Featurettes and a trailer.
Bottom Line: Buffaloed is a mixed effort. The movie showcase a great leading performance by Zoey Deutch and it is at times effectively funny and dramatic. But the film is also inconsistent in ways that are distracting and occasionally stupid.
Review: #819 (September 27, 2020)