A thing that a lot of us millennials have in common is that most of us need money. The economy has fucked us, the job market is fucking us harder, and our education is fucking us, perhaps, the hardest of all. But at the heart of all our woes is cheddar, dough, bread, Benjamins, hundos, racks on racks on racks – cold hard cash money. The thing that all of us need but find so hard, almost impossible, to come into a steady stream of.
Thus, is the subject matter of director Tanya Wexler’s Buffaloed – a sharp, fast-paced comedy about a money-minded little hustler named Peg who’s been keeping track of her finances since she was still watching Spongebob. The film puts actress Zoey Deutch in the driver’s seat in what feels like a career-defining role, as she steers the cinematic ship with her endless charisma and comedic chops. It’s a hilarious and genuinely touching look at the outward consequences of making your life revolve around money even when you desperately need it, and doubles as a portrait of women’s empowerment that finally feels genuine as opposed to a marketing gimmick.
Since as far back as she can remember, Peg Dahl has wanted to make money. Inspired by her father, a gambler and charmer who died of a heart attack when Peg was very young, she grew up seeing the world through the eyes of a hustler, only looking for the next way to come into cash. Peg not only dreamed of going to an ivy league college, getting a high-earning career and the hell out of Buffalo, New York, but she also had an entire plan with charts to boot. It translated all the way until the school of her dreams sent her an acceptance letter to the unfortunate realisation that Peg’s family (mum Kathy, played by Judy Greer, and brother JJ, played by Noah Reid) can’t afford to send her. So, Peg takes her lifelong cultivation of financial slash con-woman know-how and uses it to scalp counterfeit Buffalo Bills tickets in order to foot her college tuition bill – acquiring herself a one-way ticket to prison.
Once she’s released from her brief stint, Peg not only struggles to find herself an honest living, she struggles to know what to do about her ever-looming legal debt. But it’s when she receives a special phone call from a man looking to discuss with her just that, that Peg discovers her true fiscal calling: motherfucking debt collection.
Peg is able to use her saleswoman charm and penchant for swindling to turn herself into a master debt collector, looking to climb her way up the ladder at a shitbird named Wiz’s collection agency – an irritating, chauvinistic bully played by Jai Courtney. Though her initial goal is to top the agency’s leader board by the end of the month (part of a bet put in place so that Wiz will relieve her of her debt if she wins it), her natural flare for debt collection and simultaneous aversion to misogyny turns her attention and entrepreneurial spirit to the inception of her very own agency. But it’s all paper and promises until Wiz and his goons take the debt competition to another level, jeopardising Peg, her employees, and her own family, while she struggles to balance her romantic relationship with the DA (Jermaine Fowler) who disapproves of her endeavours.
Buffaloed begins with Peg eliciting a guttural cry of “fuck” directly at the camera, and the film never loses its momentum from there. It’s paced at a mile a minute and still manages to devote enough time to its characters and plot, never sacrificing goofy comedy and delightful images of Zoey Deutch scrambling around in oversized suits over the heart of its story, or the consequences Peg inflicts on those closest to her due to her seemingly endless greed. It has freeze frames and fourth-wall-breaking akin to what feels like a female version of The Big Short in the best way possible. It’s got the type of unrelenting fun and necessary level of emotional investment that other comedy films try and fail to combine, with strong writing from screenwriter Brian Sacca interwoven with Deutch’s incredible knack for physical comedy.
If anything, Buffaloed should be considered a triumph for not only further spotlighting Deutch as the talented actress she’s always been, but the adept comedic actress she clearly is as well. Even more so than in her charming rom-com turn with Set It Up, she full throttles Peg Dahl’s sharp-witted self-assurance and proclivity for scrabbling around like a little spider monkey as if Deutch had already been doing that her whole life. Deutch slips into the role of Peg as if they were never two different people – a scrappy little rascal of a young woman who embodies a disavowing of gender roles and expectations of femininity. She’s boyish and brazen, shunning the desires of her mother to simply settle down, find a provider, and start wearing skirts in place of her preferred suits and track pants. She’s a film character with feminist ideals that don’t feel like they’re trying to sell us a product, and it’s a film about a young woman beating brutish men at their own game that doesn’t feel like its “girl power” message is an inherent gimmick.
As it often happens with most things that feature the long-existing talents of Judy Greer, there is not nearly enough of her in this film. But it’s a small price to pay (and who can so no to any amount of Miss Greer?) for a delightful, woman-fronted, woman-directed comedy that showcases the talents of Zoey Deutch and makes you laugh at every turn. But Buffaloed still gives you room to breathe, as Peg slowly understands how her hustling has hurt the people she only ever wanted to help when her efforts were still almost entirely selfish. Peg Dahl is an anti-hero for the ages and, much like Dahl herself, Buffaloed is a sweet-hearted little scamp of a film that deserves all our attention (and also, to Peg’s delight, our money).
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs