Lay the Favorite Wastes A Good Cast On A Bad Adaptation

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Film adaptations of novels and memoirs aren’t really a new thing. They’ve been around since time immemorial (okay, ever since cinema was probably invented) for obvious reasons: other people’s real stories are easy source material, and all you have to do is adapt the thing well. A lot of books have been turned into great movies. However, it’s sad to say that Lay the Favorite, a memoir adaptation that features an all-star cast (and we wish we were kidding) from the year 2012, is not a great movie. If you haven’t heard of it, so take a look at the trailer below.

Lay the Favorite follows the story of Beth Raymer (played by Rebecca Hall) who is getting really bored with her normal, ordinary life over in Florida as, uh, an exotic dancer. She gets encouragement from her dad Jerry who tells her to move to Las Vegas and find a good job being a cocktail waitress.

Beth ends up moving to Las Vegas and meets another woman named Holly, who lives at the Las Vegas motel she ends up staying at. Holly sets up a meeting with Beth and Dink Heimowitz (played by Bruce Willis), a professional gambler who makes huge bets on sports through his company Dink, Inc., where he employs assistants to make his bets for him. Beth is immediately picqued by the whole operation, and it turns out she’s a natural at numbers and betting, it seems. She quickly becomes Dink’s protege, while Jeremy, a young journalist, Jeremy, becomes attracted to her. She becomes addicted to the thrill of gambling and the money it brings, too addicted to even take notice of Jeremy and consider settling down with him.

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Beth inadvertently starts getting attracted to Dink, much to the dismay of Dink’s hot-headed wife, Tulip (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), who makes it clear that she wants Beth to stop seeing her husband. Because of this, Beth takes a similar job with a rival gambler, a man called Rosie (played by Vince Vaughn) who runs an illegal operation based in Curaçao, in Central America. Naturally, Beth succeeds, but both Rosie and the job are actually very sketchy, with the climax involving a big game of basketball that may cost a lot of people their lives, depending on the outcome.

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Let’s make it clear here: Lay the Favorite is just not a very good movie, despite a huge, talented cast. Not even in 2012, where any of these actors are bankable in any film. It’s a shame, because I wanted this to be a good review based on the names alone.

You’ve got three big names in Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Vince Vaughn, and if you haven’t heard of this movie, it’s because the studio that produced it didn’t even want anything to do with it.

That’s not the stuff of good reviews, and apparently it’s for a good reason. Well, mostly because this film is terrible.

Beth, the film’s protagonist, is depicted as quirky, whimsical girl, and like a typical quirky girl (stopping short of the dangerous Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope) she’s very spontaneous and “lives in the moment.” It’s not quite clear whether this was actually based on the real-life Beth, but it’s not a great look for her. She really does seem to be directionless, truly unable to make real, strong decisions that make sense.

Lay the Favorite needs someone who can play dumb well, and it seems like Rebecca Hall, a relative unknown compared to the stellar cast, is not that woman. She just can’t seem to pull off this role in a way that’s charming or even barely appealing. The writing is inconvenient and doesn’t help anything, too. Beth’s writing is problematic, with her truly selfish (but not intentionally so) actions impacting people in a way she truly doesn’t understand, ending up very frustrating because it’s tough to suspend your disbelief at the way she acts.

The one thing that does help in reviewing this rough film from 2012 is that the big names in the cast do actually make the most of their undesirable script. Willis, Vaughn, and Zeta-Jones are true professionals, going into it all in, even though there’s not much to feel hopeful about. At the very least, you can say that about them.

But it’s not really enough to redeem Lay the Favorite. The film really is some bargain-bin trash, and you may watch it when you channel surf and see that the movie’s on. That’s fine. But I don’t even think you’d be willing to spend time lingering on it, maybe not more than 15 minutes.

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