Zoey Deutch has been doing strong work for years in films as diverse as Vincent N Roxxy, Before I Fall, and Zombieland: Double Tap. There is no bigger sense of her star power than what she does in Buffaloed, though. Peg, the character she portrays, is intentionally kind of obnoxious. Rather than turning us off to her, Deutch makes her weirdly lovable, so that obnoxiousness is part of her appeal. The actress gives a great performance in a movie that deftly mixes comedy with social commentary.
Peg is a natural born schemer who lives in Buffalo, New York, where everyone is comically obsessed with the Bills and hot wings. Her mother Kathy (Judy Greer) is exasperated with Peg's behavior, especially after it lands her a stint behind bars. Upon release, she gets a job working at a debt collection agency, where the shady owner, Wizz (Jai Courtney), teaches her the ins and outs of the business. That includes the illegal stuff, like collecting debts more than once and using ethically questionable tactics to get people to pay.
Peg's a natural. She has a knack for summing up someone's psychology so she can play on it. To her, the idea is to “sell the dream” of getting out from under the burden of debt. Following a clash with Wizz, she decides to go it on her own. Peg sets up a collection agency, stealing some “paper” from her former boss to give to the ragtag staff she assembles. This sets off a battle between them, with both sides engaging in dirty tricks to foil the other.
Buffaloed is a pretty compelling look at life in the collection business. Peg explains to the audience how credit card companies sell debt to these agencies for pennies on the dollar, and how the agencies make their money by harassing owers to death. The point of the film is that there's little regulation of this enterprise, thereby making it easy for sleazy entrepreneurs to prey on those who have are having financial problems. I don't know if the examples used in the story are based in fact or exaggerated for comedic effect, but they're often darkly funny. One collector brags of convincing a guy that a sniper was waiting to pick him off if he didn't pay up immediately.
That may seem like heavy subject matter for a comedy. Buffaloed makes it work by filtering it through Peg's eyes. At its heart, this is a story about how she wants to collect karmic payment from the leeches who get rich off the debt of others. Director Tanya Wexler and writer Brian Sacca treat the issue seriously enough to give the movie a little substance, but not so seriously that you can't have a few good laughs at it.
At the center of it all is Deutch, who's on fire in this role, convincingly showing how the wheels in Peg's mind are always turning, sometimes to her own detriment. She has the character talk a mile a minute, switch moods on a dime, and swear hilariously. The fierce, unwavering – and occasionally unearned – self-confidence Peg has really comes out. So does her shamelessly manipulative side, which she has no qualms about displaying. Despite that mixture of good, bad, and somewhere-in-the-middle qualities, Deutch always provides Peg with an underlying likability. Our heroine is charmingly flawed in her hands.
Buffaloed moves like a rocket. The ninety-five minutes fly right by. It might not be as scathing a take on disreputable debt collectors as, say, The Big Short was to the people who caused the housing market to collapse. Still, it's a solid comedy with a point of view, fronted by a star who commands your attention for every single second.
out of four
Buffaloed is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexual content, and mild violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.