A Plea for Plemons

By Bradford William Davis

Not every deserving actor receives an Oscar nomination. But, Jesse Plemons was robbed.

The 2019 Oscars’ Best Supporting Actor category features five exemplary performances and one stunning omission: Game Night’s Jesse Plemons deserves to be recognized.

In Game Night, Plemons plays Gary, a lonely police officer reeling from his divorce. His wife, whom he’s still madly in love with, claimed their mutual friend group when she ended their marriage. Gary is weird — his voice rarely changes in register and he keeps eye contact a few seconds longer than anyone should be comfortable. Game Night gives us no reason to assume he isn’t a native English speaker yet his dialogue sounds like he’s taken a sentence from a foreign language, run it through Google Translate, then, placed each word into an online thesaurus to sub in a fancy synonym. You might get offended by an insult and refer to it as a “diss.” Gary, however, doesn’t “care for that nomenclature.”

Unfortunately for Gary, he still lives next door to the site of the regular game night he was once a part of. Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), his neighbors and estranged friends, try to hide their ongoing gatherings from him at all costs. Max and Annie are the movie’s ostensible protagonists, but they’re self-centered, cliquish and dishonest. The rest of their gang isn’t better. There’s little remorse about the clumsy lies they tell Gary; they’re fine treating him like a pariah if they’re getting away with it.

Plemons carries the inherent tragedy of Gary’s status and infuses it with comic genius. All his lines are deadpanned, his expressions catatonic. Plemons’ clenched movements telegraph Gary’s rage about the group’s abandonment of him. Still, his solemn diction of Gary’s misplaced SAT words endear him as a genuinely sorrowful sad sack, while making it clear why he never gets the invites. Each delayed reaction signals that he’s a creep and a fool, but his clumsy desire to prove his worthiness earns your pity. Gary clings to a 15-pound white terrier for security, and Plemons should hoist a trophy in recognition of his skills. He won’t. Life imitates art.

If you’re preparing for Oscar season by watching the best performances of the year, it makes some (narrow) sense why Plemons’ work in Game Night could get overlooked. The first strike against Game Night is that it was an excellent year in movies. The second: Game Night is a screwball comedy sprinkled with suspense. There’s no pretense of prestige. (See: Annie treating Max’s gunshot wound with rubbing alcohol, or this squeaky rubber ducky.) Game Night is here for the jokes. It merited awards consideration but didn’t condescend with awards bait.

In Game Night’s climactic twist, Gary makes his friends promise that they will never exclude him again. We should pledge the same to Plemons.