Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall) is a ditz with hidden depths. No sooner does her sex- industry gig end unceremoniously than this squeaky-voiced Floridian upstart is off to Las Vegas to make it as a cocktail waitress (she dreams big). But Sin City being a union town, drink-tray-hauling careers are hard to come by. So it’s down to the underground, specifically a sports-gambling operation—Dink Inc.—run by weak-willed bruiser Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis), where Beth discovers her innate talent for placing winning bets, as well as attracting a number of shady characters.
Based on Raymer’s memoir of the same name and directed like an Occupy-era screwball comedy by old-pro Stephen Frears (The Queen), Lay the Favorite is frenzied without being funny. Like Judy Holliday on a particularly manic day, Hall tears from scene to scene with a bubbly effervescence that is technically impressive yet increasingly exhausting. (The scene where she vacillates wildly between aggressive and submissive poses while seducing Joshua Jackson’s clean-cut journalist is indicative of the movie’s whiplash-inducing tone.) And the farcical machinations—from a jealous, plastic-surgery-obsessed spouse to a pony-playing parolee with a potential connection to the FBI—pile up with an inelegance that make you long for the deft comic touch of Lubitsch or Hawks. This is one bugged-out burlesque you can easily close the iron door on.
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