Rebecca Hall and Bruce Willis star. We're not sure why.
A young woman heads to Las Vegas to start a new chapter in her life and ends up working for an eccentric bookie and finding a whole new set of skills.Lay the Favorite is based on the memoir by the real Beth Raymer – a former stripper who later became involved in gambling and later still a published journalist. The book was well received and there’s little doubt that her life was interesting enough to be the inspiration for a big screen movie version.
However, that transition has been less than successful. In the movie, Beth is played by British actress Rebecca Hall – the first of many things Lay the Favorite gets wrong. Hall has been making a name for herself with strong female roles in The Town and The Awakening and throws that all away here with an overtly sexualised caricature, complete with a dodgy American accent, high pitched tones and lashings of exposed flesh. It’s a role that’s utterly beneath the talented actress and likely not one that the author would be all that happy with either. Why? Well because Beth, as played in the film, is an absolute moron.
Sure, she supposed to be a little slow, a small town girl trying to make her way in the big city but this character takes things to extremes. Beth does nothing of worth throughout the entire picture, landing in the lap of Bruce Willis’ Dink before flouncing around and making a nuisance of herself, then flitting off and running back into their lives only when she inevitably runs into legal trouble. Her affinity for numbers and letters is mentioned several times but there’s never any evidence that Beth actually does anything with her gift. What’s more, the willingness of other characters to go out of their way to help her is simply baffling.
The issues start with poor casting and opaque character motivations and continue through lacklustre production values and an inconsistent tone. From the way Beth’s stripping work is handled at the start of the film, it seems clear that it’s aiming for some PG-13 appropriate sleaze. Then, halfway though, it dumps a series of f-bombs (and worse) on the audience, making it impossible to discern what kind of film director Frears was trying to make. Is this a light comedy fairytale, where her dreams come true in the big city, or a grittier drama about a wayward idiot?Hall may be mis-cast but she gives her all as Beth, adding the only note of consistency in the cast. The rest seem utterly bored and out of place, particularly Willis who looks old and tired and somewhat bemused by his situation. Catherine Zeta-Jones gets no time to build her character and Vince Vaughn shows up late and just about manages to prise a few jokes from the turgid script. And then Joshua Jackson pops up out of the blue in a shot which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the credits of Dawson’s Creek.Lay the Favorite feels like a bottom draw DVD – one you rent because of the famous heads on the box cover and instantly regret your decision. It’s hard to know where exactly things when wrong; the material is interesting enough, director Frears has his share of hits (The Queen, High Fidelity, The Grifters) and even writer D.V. DeVincentis penned Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank. But wrong it went – steer clear.