Often as a reviewer you might get used to the Hollywood or UK machine where most of the stuff is in English but here and there I try to sprinkle in something else too. Games People Play (Seurapeli in Finnish) is the first Finnish film to be a part of that and so there were slight expectations to get a very typical Nordic dramedy with a lot of melancholy, cursing and dry humour. Well out of those you do get a lot of cursing, as it is mainly about eight friends spending a holiday together at a lake cabin, but it’s nice to see that it’s not afraid to get out of the comfort zone sometimes. While the film doesn’t necessarily feel complete or smooth all the way through, it’s still smart and endearingly acted so you don’t snooze off during it.
For the first hour-or-so, director/writer Jenni Toivoniemi manages to keep the story moving in fast pace with a bunch of funny and passive aggressive conversations between the characters. The humour is never dumbed down or dependant on punchlines, it genuinely feels like friends having inside jokes and taking loving jabs at each other. That is also why the whole main cast’s performances feel very natural while especially Iida-Maria Heinonen (as Natali) stands out in mostly quiet role. Games People Play relies heavily on conversations and with this many people, editing all of it together is always painfully troublesome with so much coverage needed. Fortunately there is a playful rhythm in those scenes which keeps things fresh.
The movie for the most part has just minor things holding it back but when it isn’t only one or two minor things, the effect of them grows exponentially. Firstly there’s never a proper second gear that kicks in since the characters’ frustrations are constant and therefore ”the big fight”, which eventually happens, doesn’t shake things up enough. Secondly, intimacy after it seems a bit overdone and repetitive considering the lack of romantic chemistry between some of the characters. Thirdly, being stuck at a location would’ve felt more suffocating without the beginning or ending parts in other places. Musical inconsistency of the soundtrack also comes off odd as the movie takes place in modern time, mix of baroque and contemporary styles clash hard next to each other.
Smileys: Humour, editing, Iida-Maria Heinonen
Frowneys: Pacing, soundtrack
What felt unrealistic at the lake cabin was the lack of mosquito killing. It’s a summer after all.