Lay the Favourite review

If you're into betting and gambling then this effort might offer some mild interest to you. If however, you're not one who dabbles then there's precious little reward for you here. Director Stephen Frears has no feel for the subject whatsoever. He tries to make this tale lively and ingratiating but it ends up merely hollow and charmless.
 
He's instructed all his performers to pitch their performances high - subtlety be damned - and one never finds the characters remotely persuasive. Not Rebecca Hall as a naive private dancer cum stripper who gets a job working for a sports gambler. Nor Bruce Willis as her said boss with a roving eye, nor Catherine Zeta-Jones as his unhappy vengeful wife or Vince Vaughn giving his customary motormouthed schtick as a fellow huckster. Joshua Jackson tries to be amiable as a journalist who becomes embroiled in Hall's pay and collect betting operation but his role is underdeveloped. These actors expend much energy on a script that fails to come to life. There never appears to be anything truly at stake here. We don't give a damn about their dodgy dealings and couldn't care less about the outcome.
 
It's set in sun drenched Vegas. These petty swindlers fit right into the place with their total lack of sophistication. Based on a true story, Lay the Favourite actually lays an egg. What might have been vivid and eye opening on the page is rendered on screen in an impersonal and wholly unendearing fashion. There's no  bite or vitality. These characters should be fun to hang around with but all told you'd cross the street to avoid them. I loathed it.

Lay the Favourite at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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