Tag Archives: Buffaloed

How to Sell Late-Stage Capitalism: A Comedy — “Buffaloed”

Some of the best comedies are also cultural horror pieces. They focus in on one absurd aspect of how we live, exploiting it for laughs while also making us recoil at the truth of it. This is the case with “Buffaloed”, where we follow a woman named Peg who’s hell-bent on taking hold of the Buffalo debt collection industry.

That may seem small potatoes, but Buffalo, New York, is one of the debt collecting capitals of the U.S. It houses a number of agencies that buy debt for pennies on the dollar, and then try to collect as much of it as possible. Often, they’ll collect more than they’re owed. They’ll make threats in order to collect. They’ll lie about the law and break it themselves. They’ll take advantage of older people who might not remember the debt’s already been settled.

Why would following someone who idolizes this industry be interesting or amusing? Peg is someone who’s idealistic about the cult of sales on which debt collection is based. She’ll willingly trade being able to make it day-to-day for a risky scam that has an outside shot of making her rich. She’s emblematic of a philosophy about money that plunges people into debt in the first place, a philosophy that tells us to invest rather than save, to hoard rather than share, to look out for ourselves rather than our communities.

There can be a certain fascination to watching bad guys who are so exceptionally precise at their manipulation that they run circles around the good guys. The prototype for this is Iago in “Othello”. The concept survives to this day in shows like “House of Cards” and its U.S. remake, or movies like “There Will Be Blood”. That plays differently after four years of Trump, though. Perhaps those we have to fear aren’t the cinematic genius masterminds, but the desperate hustlers who whip their followers into a fanatical frenzy.

Zoey Deutch’s Peg is no Iago. She’s desperate to escape her social class, to escape debt. She has schemes on schemes. She also has the gift of convincing herself, and her family and employees, and perhaps even us as the audience that she wants to do it the right way. She wants to reform the debt collection industry. She wants to make it work for the industry and for those in debt. We know that’s not possible, but if anyone can take a run at it, maybe it’s her – even as she erodes what is and isn’t legitimate.

She’s just good enough at it to ride the line between success and prison. She has just enough of a gift to shift in and out of each. There’s no middle ground for her. She grew up in a house with debt collectors breathing down her mother’s neck. Her mother (Judy Greer in a very overlooked role) runs a struggling, off-the-books business. Peg looks down on her for that, while having endless, misguided faith in the memory of a scam-artist father who passed away and passed his debts onto all the rest.

How is any of this funny, let alone one of the best comedies of the year? Brian Sacca’s screenplay and Tanya Wexler’s direction eviscerate one of the most predatory and loosely regulated industries in the country. Different debt collection agencies go to war like wannabe mafias over who’s buying what debt, at what cost. They raid, threaten, and SWAT each other. The movie educates about the industry even while building comedy off how pathetic and desperate it all is.

Peg herself might be a sociopath. Or she might be a good, caring person who has to act the part of sociopath to stand up against threats. Or she might be a sociopath who acts the part of good, caring person because it keeps her enablers where she needs them. She hires outsiders because she believes in them, identifies with them…or because she knows she can control them more easily. She doesn’t want to betray her lawyer boyfriend because she cares about him…or because she knows he’s a useful resource for her. We never know which, and Deutch’s performance balances on this line perfectly. We’re scared for her, worried for her, and rooting for her while we also legitimately distrust her. That Deutch can sell us on all of the above at once offers us a deceptively complex comedic performance – something that becomes more layered because it is so comedic in nature.

That’s more real and worrisome than an Iago. There will always be someone sensible who resists an Iago. His shortcoming is that he never believed his own lies – they were logical lies, not emotional ones. A Peg, though? She’s an icon. Who needs logic when emotion overrides it? Even as a viewer, I can say I empathize with her and may even believe in her. I want her to succeed because her panic, desperation, resolve, determination – they’re all so identifiable, even when her success is built on eroding the very lines of legitimacy she tells everyone she’s trying to reinforce.

Iago speaks to the audience and we know he’s evil. We follow him because his actions are happening outside of us, on a stage, or the page, or in a movie. We’re not necessarily legitimizing them by wanting to know what happens. Peg speaks to us and we’re confused about who she is even in that moment, but she sure seems to believe it so why wouldn’t we give her a chance? On some level, that legitimization is happening inside of us as the viewer. There’s a larger barrier to enabling Iago or the logical villains like him. There’s almost none to enabling villainy from someone you actually like and can identify with. “Buffaloed” can read us, and then take advantage of it while calling it out and making it plain as day to us.

It clarifies how this identification plays into the cult of sales, including debt collection, by making us buy into a movie that is using the same strategies to claim our emotional investment. Its comedy renders us empathetic, and its absurdity makes it both funnier and more horrific. It’s a rare film that can call out exactly how it’s getting you to emotionally invest in a toxic character, and in so doing further convince you to do exactly that. It convinces you to set aside your better judgment because this is someone you believe in and want to see succeed despite common sense and logic. It’s a movie that’s emblematic of the current culture of the United States.

“Buffaloed” is a clever comedy that kept me laughing across a very efficient hour and a half. It’s an utterly brilliant character study that resonates far longer than that – except I don’t know if the character it’s studying most is Peg, or me as the viewer.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Buffaloed” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Zoey Deutch plays Peg. Judy Greer plays her mother, Kathy. Lusia Strus plays Frances, Lorrie Odom plays Backer, Paulyne Wei plays Jin, Barbara Gordon plays Mrs. Cooney, and Jayne Eastwood plays Rhonda. Kate Moyer plays Peg as a child. There are a few other brief speaking roles.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. A lot of the conversation revolves around business decisions – debt collection, rent, sales strategies, ethics, theft. Peg’s conversations with her mother often revolve around her future, her dreams, and her mistakes. These include discussions of men – how she impacts her brother, her belief in her late father, her sort-of-boyfriend, but are usually more broadly around Peg’s life.

Some of the business conversation treads into talking about men because all of her competition in debt collection is run by men, but it usually leans more toward Frances and Backer talking to Peg about her business.

You can watch “Buffaloed” on Hulu with a subscription, or see where to rent it.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Movies + Shows by Women — June 19, 2020

There’s so much this week that I’m going to split out documentaries and feature them on Monday. Before we get into it, I also want to mention “Scare Package” on Shudder. It’s a horror comedy anthology movie with segments directed by Emily Hagins and co-directed by Hillary Andujar.

On to the reason you’re here:

Love, Victor (Hulu series)
co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger

When I was growing up, the only Latinx role model I had in a coming-of-age series was Mario Lopez in “Saved by the Bell”. As A.C. Slater, he was second fiddle to Zack Morris, a character who read as white (though he was played by an actor who’s a quarter Indonesian). Slater would either give in to Zack’s plots, or would lose out in competition with him. In other words, the only Latinx role model I had on TV essentially played the Daffy Duck to Zack Morris’s Bugs Bunny – always a step behind, not as cool, only successful when his more privileged friend allowed him to be. It was good to have the representation, but there was a lot lacking in the way it was conveyed.

There’s so much more now than there once was – “One Day at a Time”, “Ugly Betty”, “Jane the Virgin”, “East Los High”, just to name a few. And now there’s “Love, Victor”. It takes place in the same world as the movie “Love, Simon”. Where that film poses a (relatively) smooth version of coming out, “Love, Victor” throws more obstacles in the path of its protagonist. Victor is in a new city, figuring out his sexual orientation while at the same time wondering how to discuss it with his family.

There’s something of a split in attitudes toward LGBTQ people between older and younger generations of Latinxs in the United States. There’s more acceptance in younger generations, and it’s much more of a norm. Older generations often have difficulty in large part because of how ingrained Catholicism is in Latin-American cultures.

Another factor is that immigrant communities try to assimilate to U.S. norms in order to fit in and decrease bigotry aimed at themselves. One of the easiest ways to assimilate into U.S. culture is to adopt the bigotries U.S. culture aims at other marginalized groups. This isn’t a bug; it’s a feature of U.S. culture that keeps marginalized groups tearing each other down in an attempt to keep themselves safe. Younger generations have the benefit of more modern norms, and clearer eyes on how systemic this is. Obviously, this can create a lot of clashes between older and younger generations, especially when it turns out one of their kids is also part of another group their own generation has been taught to marginalize.

Elizabeth Berger is showrunning with Isaac Aptaker. The pair are coming off a run as showrunners of “This is Us”, so they know how to put together a ranging, multi-generational story with a large cast.

You can watch “Love, Victor” with a Hulu subscription.

Miss Juneteenth (digital rental)
directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples

“Miss Juneteenth” is a pageant that offers a chance at a full scholarship to college. A former winner is determined to get her daughter to win it, and sees it as an opportunity to provide a better life than she’s had.

I want to highlight the lead here. Nicole Beharie is a superb actress, probably best known for dragging “Sleepy Hollow” along for its first three seasons as Fox dreadfully mismanaged and obsessively re-cast an initial success into complete non-function. Few actors could have anchored that mess through so much as well as she did.

This is the first feature by writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples. She’s written episodes on Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar” and has a few shorts to her name, but otherwise she’s a new voice.

You can rent “Miss Juneteenth” for $7 on Amazon, Fandango, iTunes, Redbox, or Vudu.

Mr. Jones (digital rental)
directed by Agnieszka Holland

“Mr. Jones” is a biographical film that follows Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. He’s the journalist who began to reveal the Holodomor in the 1930s, wherein the Soviet Union starved Ukraine by seizing its food and wealth for itself. Entire harvests were stolen away, leaving ethnic Ukrainians to starve.

Estimates of the true cost in human life vary anywhere from 3.3 to 12 million. The U.N. has estimated it between 7 and 10 million. Either range puts it on a scale approaching that of the Holocaust under Nazi Germany. Somehow, debate remains as to whether this was a genocide, though I don’t know what else you call the forcible starvation of an entire people.

The Soviet Union would respond to the mass loss of life by encouraging Soviet peasants to take over the farms and land of the starved. That contributes directly to the Ukraine-Russia situation today, where Russia has annexed Ukrainian land such as Crimea and established a military presence in eastern Ukraine – the areas with a higher portion of Russian populations.

Director Agnieszka Holland is one of the most legendary filmmakers working today. Her “Angry Harvest” (for West Germany) and “In Darkness” (for Poland) were both nominated for Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film, and she was nominated for another in 1992 for her adapted screenplay to “Europa Europa”.

My generation (Millennials) are likely most familiar with her 1993 adaptation of “The Secret Garden”. She’s also directed on series like “The Wire”, “Treme”, and “House of Cards”. She’s one of the best filmmakers that most U.S. moviegoers have never heard of. That should change, and a film about the importance of a free press in the face of authoritarianism is a good way to make that change.

Disclosure: Writer Andrea Chalupa is a friend. This is her first feature.

You can currently buy “Mr. Jones” for $13 on Amazon or Redbox, or $15 on Fandango, with rental becoming available on July 3.

Babyteeth (digital rental)
directed by Shannon Murphy

“Babyteeth” is an Australian film about a chronically ill teenager who befriends a drug dealer. Her family has to make adjustments in confronting and tolerating aspects of the friendship.

Director Shannon Murphy has helmed episodes for multiple series, including “Rake” and “Killing Eve”. “Babyteeth” is based on a screenplay by Rita Kalnejais, adapted from her own stage play. The film serves as the feature debut for both.

You can rent “Babyteeth” for $7 from Google Play or Microsoft.

The Short History of the Long Road (digital rental)
directed by Ani Simon-Kennedy

A young woman whose father raises her in a nomadic lifestyle has to fend for herself. She’s only ever known driving through the U.S. in an RV and doing odd jobs. She has to decide what it is she wants for herself. Lead Sabrina Carpenter has gotten a good amount of praise for this role.

Director Ani Simon-Kennedy is a fairly new voice. Her only previous feature is an Icelandic film called “Days of Gray”.

You can rent “The Short History of the Long Road” for $4 from Google Play or Vudu, $5 from Amazon, iTunes, or Microsoft, or $6 from DirectTV or Optimum. (And bravo to the film’s website for actually having a centralized resource to find this.)

Buffaloed (Hulu)
directed by Tanya Wexler

Ah, debt collectors. As Millennials go through the second or third (depending on age) major recession of our thus far still pretty damn brief adulthoods, the debt collection industry has boomed. Speaking of, Boomers had mob movies and family comedies, though come to think of it, both were actually about the value of tight-knit family units. Millennials have movies about the people our generation speaks to most outside of our own families – debt collectors and scammers!

Enter “Buffaloed”, where Peg Dahl just wants to escape Buffalo and will try to pull off any scam or con to do it. She ends up becoming successful as a debt collector and tries to start her own business in contention with the city’s more established debt collector.

Director Tanya Wexler has been pretty quiet since 2011’s “Hysteria”, a period romance about the invention of the vibrator. “Buffaloed” is her first feature since, though she has another (“Jolt”) due out soon.

You can watch “Buffaloed” with a Hulu subscription. You can also rent it for $4 from Google Play or Vudu or $5 from Fandango, iTunes, or Microsoft,

Vampire Dad (digital rental)
directed by Frankie Ingrassia

Look, I’m not going to lie. This had me at the title. “Vampire Dad” is a spoof on 1960s counter-culture films where the central issue at hand – brace yourself – is that a wholesome dad also turns out to be a vampire. You see, he’s a psychologist, and creatures of the night needed someone who could help them with therapy.

I’ve been watching a lot of “What We Do in the Shadows”, so this all seems pretty natural.

Director Frankie Ingrassia might be more recognizable as an actress on shows like “Goliath”. “Vampire Dad” is her feature directorial debut.

You can rent “Vampire Dad” for $4 from Google Play, $5 from iTunes, or $6 from Amazon.

Feel the Beat (Netflix)
directed by Elissa Down

“Mighty Ducks” but with dance sounds better than most other similarly inspired films. As a fan of even (especially) the cheesiest entries in the “Step Up” franchise, I’m for it.

Elissa Down is an Australian filmmaker who’s carving a career in young adult films.

You can watch “Feel the Beat” with a Netflix subscription.

The Dustwalker (Hulu)
directed by Sandra Sciberras

Speaking of Australia, “The Dustwalker” crosses alien invasion with fast zombie movies. I’ve read about Australia, so I almost put this in the documentary section for Monday, but nope – it’s fiction.

Writer-director Sandra Sciberras has directed on a range of films, and more often works as a producer.

You can watch “The Dustwalker” with a Hulu subscription, or rent it for $4 from Google Play or Vudu, or $5 from Amazon, Fandango, iTunes, or Microsoft.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.