Beth (Rebecca Hall) is a small town girl with dreams of a glamorous life. When she tires of her job as a private dancer, she packs up and heads to Las Vegas in search of her fortune. Within days of moving into a fleabag motel at the wrong end of the Strip, Beth is introduced to Dink (Bruce Willis), who introduces her to the world of professional gambling.
Lay the Favourite divided critics at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, but while the film is patchy, it does have some nice moments and a strong performance from Rebecca Hall. The film is based on the true story of Beth Raymer and Rebecca Hall as the lead character shows a ditzy, lighter – but no less strong – side to her talent. Hall has made a name for herself in dramas such as The Town and Frost/Nixon, but her performance as Beth shows her versatility as a comic actress. Hall adopts a high-pitched voice and some wide-eyed innocence, and it her journey from small town girl to a force to be reckoned with that carries the film.
Hall is backed up by Bruce Willis as Dink; a man who is very much the victim of his choices. Dink is happy when he is winning and becomes a borderline monster when he is not. Willis manages the role ably, but he is not given a great degree of emotional range to play with. The same goes for Catherine Zeta-Jones who plays Dink’s prickly wife Tulip. Zeta-Jones’s character is reminiscent of the one she played in Intolerable Cruelty, although Tulip is (obviously) several years older; it is like picking up with Marylin when the spark has gone out of her life. Nothing new for Zeta-Jones, but again, she manages it fine. Vince Vaughn appears as a one-note, hyped up bookie who Beth turns to when her life with Dink turns sour.
The script for Lay the Favourite was written by D.V. DeVincentis, the man who helped to bring High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank to life. Sadly, the script lacks the sparkle of these two movies, and as it meanders throughout the US and from person to person, the film loses momentum and interest.
Director Stephen Fears is no stranger to comedy; not only did he direct the wonderful High Fidelity, but he proved that he is capable of capturing local and specific humour with The Snapper. Perhaps it is the lack of regional charm that brings Lay the Favourite down, or perhaps it is the fact that everyone is so quick to forgive and shies away from confrontation that leaves the film feeling frivolous and glossy.
In all, Lay the Favourite is a mediocre film, with some nice moments, from a stellar cast and crew. Rebecca Hall gives a great performance as Beth, but she is let down by her supporting cast and a story that lacks any real depth. Stephen Frears has created a comedy that is enjoyable enough, but is not one that will stay with the audience for any length of time.