Lay the Favorite
It must a very strange thing when you autobiography is published. Suddenly your life is laid bare, open to the criticism of the world. Of course the preface, ‘auto’ by definition means you have made the conscious decision to tell your own story and realistically it is filtered through your our point of view. The next quagmire you might face is if your book becomes sufficiently well received to warrant consideration for migration to a screenplay. This brings up the question of who will portray you and the people in your life in the movie. In Beth Raymer's case these circumstances came about with the publication of her memoirs and the subsequent film of the same name, ‘Lay the Favorite’. As for the question of the actors selected to bring her memories to life she couldn’t have asked for a better collection of actors including Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson and Laura Prepon. In the all-important role of the authoress is an actress with accomplishments encompassing stage, screen and television, Rebecca Hall. Although the cast is stellar various factors intrinsically part of independent film resulted in the overall movie falling short of some of its goals. Still, with that said the movie was entertaining and offered an interesting glimpse into a portion of our society most of us are unaware of; legal and illegal sports gambling. This is not so much from the vantage point of the gambler but the unique perspective of the odds maker and bookie.
The movie was budgeted for the incredibly low sum of just over $26,000. This is significantly less that what a big budget film might allocate coffee and donuts on set. The director, Stephen Frears has a number of movies on his resume including ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ , ‘The Grifters’ and a made for television rendition of the iconic Cold War thriller, ‘Fail-Safe’. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for directing ‘The Queen’ in 2006 as well as previously mentioned ‘Grifters’. The adaptation of the novel into a script was accomplished by D.V. DeVincentis who previously provided the screenplay for films like ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ and ‘High Fidelity’. This is a reasonable pedigree representing a considerable amount of experience but in the case of this movie not all of the components managed to blend properly together. It happens, especially in the venue of independent film which is by its nature experimental. As long as something is gained from the experience than no experiment, regardless of the outcome, is a failure. In this instance the film is plagued by bad choices in pacing and problematic editing that instilled a choppy feel to the film. While that might accurately depict the way Ms Raymer's life unfolded the result here is greater difficulty in maintain the narrative consistent with the tenants of good story telling.
At the start of the movie Beth (Rebecca Hall) is a stripper when we first see her she is in upside down, standing on her hands clad only in her bra and panties. A man cheers her on to break the record for such an unusual endeavor. I suppose this is to visually indicate Beth feeling it is time to turn her world around and seek a different form of work. She leaves her home town of Tallahassee in her car and heads off to Las Vegas. Once there obtaining work as a cocktail waitress is neigh on impossible due to the unionized nature of the position. Beth meets a couple of girls where she lives, Darcy (Jo Newman) and Holly (Laura Prepon) who seem to spend their days sunbathing topless on the roof, although Beth does opt for a bikini. Yes, Laura Prepon from ‘That Seventies Show is clearly seen without a top. She is an attractive young woman with breast. If this puerile aspect of the movie is the only reason you are curious about the film there are ample opportunities to obtain screenshots on the web. They suggest stripping but Beth came out to Vegas for a change. The girls finally tell Beth to try Dink (Bruce Willis) for a job. He requires more than a lack of modesty for his jobs. Dink is one of the town’s most successful bookies and odds makers. Dink gets around certain illegalities of his profession by calculating his own odds and dispatching employees to various places to make the bets and retrieve the winnings. Beth interviewed for that position but it soon became evident that the pretty young woman had an uncanny knack for numbers.
After meeting her co-workers, the confident Frankie (Frank Grillo) and the more grounded second in command Scott (Wayne Pére), Beth sees firsthand what happens in a room literally covered with TV and computer screens monitoring the global world of gambling. Beth is immediately caught up with the excitement; exactly the change in her life she was after. Dink has a wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is on a cruise at the moment, the photo of her on Dink’s cluttered desk is exceptionally revealing; Tulip posed holding a huge fan of money. Tulip id not happy with such a smart, beautiful young woman working with her husband so in short order Beth moves to New York doing much the same thing for another gamble, Rosie (Vince Vaughn). The big difference is in NYC gambling is illegal.
I had seen this film well in advance of the Blu-ray release. It was part of the video on demand rental showcasing movies while still in theatrical release. This is something that Amazon has been branching out with and it does allow fans of Indy films to see movies on the festival circuit even if attendance is not feasible. Being medically confined to my house this is a fantastic opportunity for a long time independent film devotee like me. Albeit, this high definition presentation is better than most streaming video service. This also afforded me some me between my initial viewing of the film and the ones I would use as the basis of this review. In that time and over the course of a couple more viewings I believe I was able to discern some possible rational for the stylistic decisions . Beth was a young woman who was trying her best to define herself. As intimated by the first shot of her Beth was disoriented, adrift. Somewhat naïve she is taken advantage of but ultimately Beth is a decent young woman retaining a cheerful, helpful disposition. The disjointed style and inconsistent pacing did in some very real manner visually represent this condition.