Everybody’s picture of “The Ideal Indie Film” is different, but here’s mine.
It’s got to have a human story, preferably about humans and human activity (professions) Hollywood doesn’t make movies about.
It should be witty. Crackling dialogue adds nothing to the budget.
And it has to have a sense of place, preferably a place far away from the Lands of the Over-Filmed — LA, New York.
“Buffaloed” ticks off those checkboxes. It’s set in Buffalo, the dump down the road and up the river from Niagara Falls. It looks like Buffalo and sounds like Buffalo. It’s about the working poor and the amoral hustle of debt collecting. And it’s funny, as any movie starring the fast-talking pixie Zoey Deutch ought to be.
The actor-turned-screenwriter Brian Sacca had a bit part in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He may not have had many lines in that one, but brother-man was taking notes. He’s produced a fast, flippant mashup of “Wolf” and “Boiler Room,” a lightweight story with a dark undercurrent.
And Deutch, of “Set it Up” and “Zombieland: Double Tap,” gives it the zingy underdog such a tale needs to come off.
Our heroine/narrator is Peggy Dahl, a member of the working poor in “the epicenter of the Rust Belt.” That would be Buffalo, New York, which shows its seedy despair in every scene in this Tanya Wexler (“Hysteria”) comedy.
Peggy adored her late hustler/dad, so that’s who she aims to become. Her mother (Judy Greer, perfect as always) may be buried in debt, running a cut-rate hair salon out of their shabby house. Her brother JJ (Noah Reid) may have simpler dreams — open his own bar, get by just well enough to say he’s “fine.”
“Fine” won’t do for Peggy. Not since she was a child.
“‘Fine’ is like mediocrity’s DUMB cousin!”
Peggy is a hustling prodigy, smart enough to be admitted to an Ivy League school, practical enough to know they’ll never be able to afford it (and that the student loans would bury her), naive enough to think she can shift from hustling cigarettes to high school classmates to scalping counterfeit tickets to Buffalo Bills games so that she can afford to go.
Busted. For sacrilege.
Jail isn’t as much of an education as you’d hope. But when she answers one of her mother’s calls from a collection agency after getting out, she finds “my true calling.”
Fast-talking, charming, cute and cutthroat — Peggy dives deep into the shadowy industry that seems right at home in a withering factory town that no longer stinks the way it did when it had factories, a baseball and a basketball team to go with its hard-luck Bills and hapless hockey team, the Sabres.
And once she’s established, under the hulking crooked collection king “Wizz (Jai Courtney, terrific), she breaks free and sets up a shop of her own — rounding up the usual misfits that movies like this people “the team” with.
To Wizz, this means war. To Peggy, that means she can’t date the cute prosecutor (Jermaine Fowler) who put her in jail the last time, and just might lock her up again.
Deutch is is just-short-of-dazzling as the persuasive opportunist who convinces one and all that “debt is JAIL,” and what they’re selling to debtors is the chance to “break these people OUT.”
The script is littered with boiler-room collection agency slang, the ethos among collectors that “debt never dies” and the assorted approaches of Peggy and her team of ex-phone sex operators, Indian restaurant street-pitchmen and Bible salesmen — distinct and distinctly funny “types,” to a one.
But the type that tickles the most is the “Buffalo” type — a sea of “jagoffs” who live for Sunday, “dem Bills” and the libations of choice — “A case of Genny (Genesee Ale/Lager),” or — for special occasions “Crown (Royal) all around!”
A judge shows up for court covered in Buffalo wing sauce, a brawl breaks out over “Anchor Bar, or Duffs?”
Yeah, they’re lowbrow regional stereotypes. But they’re funny, and they’re adorable.
Much like Ms. Deutch, who makes this ideal indie film, this “Wolf of Wall Street Lite” come off, with just her fury, her charm and the acting evidence that this broke cookie is too smart to stay here, too desperate to ever pull off her Great Escape.
MPAA: unrated, some violence, sexual situations, profanity, smoking
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Judy Greer, Jai Courtney, Jermaine Fowler
Credits: Directed by Tanya Wexler, script by Brian Sacca. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:35