The Grand’s Improv Comedy Is Hit Or Miss

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the grand movie screenshot

Sometimes, poker doesn’t have to be all serious and high-strung. There are times when it’s really just a game to unload all your stress, and sometimes the luck is so random that nothing ever just seems to make sense. This unexplored side and spirit to the game is explored in a movie so strange and nonsensical that it could have only come from the mind of people who are making it all up as they go along. This review attempts to look into one such film.

This is The Grand, a 2008 film about a drug addict poker player played by Woody Harrelson. To properly explain the context of the film and the description above, it has to be said that The Grand is a work of complete improv comedy, loosely directed only by the hand of director and writer Zak Penn.

The film’s story is as absurd as you could imagine it to be: Harrleson plays Jack Faro, a poker player so addicted to drugs that he lives a reckless life and moved into a rehab center. Faro enters into a tournament called, well, The Grand, in order to try and win the $10 million pot he needs in order to save his family’s casino, which he horribly mismanaged and is in danger of losing. Faro must face a weird collection of other poker players, who make up a bunch of the other stars in the film’s cast, in the tournament in order to win.

Penn says that the entirety of The Grand was 100% improvised, and even one cursory look at the plot outline is enough to make as much obvious.

The film is shot in a mockumentary style, which provides the avenue for all the jokes that it’s built on; the only consistent plot thread that runs throughout the whole movie is that there is a poker game and somebody has to win. It may or may not be the protagonist Faro, but somebody absolutely has to win. It’s a poker movie that’s completely unapologetic for what it is and what it isn’t. It’s on that premise that Penn put together a solid ensemble cast of a varying array of movie and TV stars, like the cinematic equivalent of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, all while playing hands of poker.

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If your taste is one-of-a-kind, to put it nicely, and you like your comedy films totally strange, then maybe The Grand is the film for you. There’s only so much that Woody Harrelson and the bunch of movie stars all stocked in this film can do, and it frankly isn’t a lot. It’s a shame, considering that there’s a lot of comedy to be mined in the game of poker (then again, with the right mindset anyone can squeeze comedy out of a bunch of things in life) but no one quite seems to know what to do with the material sitting in front of them.

The Grand isn’t going to be a comedic masterpiece, but at the very least, it is a film that someone somewhere out there will be able to enjoy, someway, regardless of what reviews will tell them.

It definitely seems to cater more to the kind of poker player, or ordinary person, who doesn’t expect too much out of his life and is willing to laugh at it as much as he or she can. Especially if they want to laugh at serious poker players devoting much of their time, effort, and sanity into hyper-competitive versions of a simple card game. If you are that kind of person, then The Grand is for you. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that at all.

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