Writer/director John Susman's Game Day is an official selection of the 2017 Heartland Film Festival, Indianapolis's annual tribute to the power of cinema to change lives and celebrate the human spirit. In the film, Elizabeth Alderfer (Better Off Single) stars as Ricki, a brilliant entrepreneur with an overwhelming absence of people skills whose entire life is thrown into disarray when her tech start-up goes belly up and she's left to enter the corporate world where she's no longer the top dog and not particularly skilled at playing by someone else's rules. She lands a job with The Forester Group, a group that can be identified within 30 seconds of screen time as being filled with similarly antisocial guys who've formed a rather cliquish, almost cultish, boys' club. Determined to fit in via the company's basketball team, Ricki hires a basketball-savvy teen from the neighborhood played by Romeo Miller, the son of rapper Master P and a successful rapper and former college basketball player.
If you can't see where this is all going, you've probably never been to a movie.
The overall tone of Game Day plays like a paint-by-numbers faith-based flick, though Game Day is certainly not a faith-based flick with the occasional obscenity tossed in and enough hints at overt sexual harassment included to fill a political campaign.
I couldn't decide what was more appalling - that we were being asked to empathize with this socially awkward narcissist who, quite literally, doesn't make a single smart decision despite being a "brilliant entrepreneur" until the film's final moments, or that we are expected to invest ourselves in a journey watching her fight for the right to "fit in" with a bunch of sexist pigs with nary a redeeming value among them.
I mean, seriously. Who were we supposed to like here? Romeo Miller's Lucas? Maybe a little bit, but the script sure didn't help us as it balanced all his redeeming values with a stereotypical gangbanger portrayal that came off as racism lite. I suppose an argument could be made for Chris Johnson (47 Meters Down) as Victor, who at least seems to have his values firmly intact despite working amongst people who do the opposite on a seemingly daily basis.
I dunno. I struggled with it.
Filmed in Chicago, Game Day is an interesting idea that really never comes to life with absurd set-up after absurd set-up diluting any potential emotional impact and the characters never really becoming anyone we care about let alone want to spend even the length of a feature film with. The film's early scenes, in which Ricki seemingly wants to confront sexism before, oddly enough, actually submitting to it, are painfully awkward but not nearly as awkward as this young woman's overly assertive presence on what is clearly a gang-ruled basketball court where, unfathomably, she is never beaten to a pulp before the essentially decent Lucas finally decides to help her.
Quite honestly, I was giggling as I wrote that last paragraph.
Game Day never gets any better, salvaged only my Johnson's laid back, winning turn as Victor, Miller's charismatic, if not entirely convincing, performance and the always welcome Fyvush Finkel adding a tone that is completely out of place yet strangely welcome at the same time. While Game Day isn't quite one of those "How did this get into Heartland?" films, it is one of those films that that preaches everything Heartland embraces but never really convinces us it means it.
For more information on Heartland Film Festival and the Game Day screenings, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic