"Buffaloed" Movie Review Essay
Shooting a gold-plated pistol into the air after screaming a naughty word and pell-melling down the street in a smart pantsuit—that’s how we meet the fictional Peg Dahl, the firecracker at the heart of director Tanya Wexler’s indie-tastic looney-tune adventure Buffaloed. Call it a low-rent knock-off of 2015 Oscar-winner The Big Short, or think of it as a white trash version of 2000’s Boiler Room, either way, it’s a winner, thanks mostly to the up-and-coming (if she hasn’t already come) Zoey Deutch.
Starring as the aforementioned Peg, Deutch lets it rip with a smart and effective portrayal of a woman near the end of her rope, who’s not only unwilling to let go but determined to climb back up. In elementary school, Peg learned that the best way to escape the Rust Belt poverty that gripped her family was by hustling folks. Her personal hero was Warren Buffett, and she was well-versed in margins and profit, fleecing her fellow 12-year-olds with a 75% markup on contraband merchandise.
Years later, Peg gets accepted to college but has no way to pay for it, so she takes to the streets of Buffalo with a stack of forged NFL tickets and pawns them off on unsuspecting fans. The resulting 40-month stint in the county lock-up leaves her worse off than before—that is, until she gets a phone call from a debt collector.
After being able to sweet-talk the sad sack (played by screenwriter Brian Sacca in a cameo), she gets recruited to work for Wizz (Jai Courtney), the misogynistic kingpin of the Buffalo debt-collection world. Before long, Peg is at the top of the white board, successfully separating burdened delinquents from thousands of owed dollars. When Wizz doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, though, and cuts her out of the earnings, she does what any respectable debt collector would do; she goes solo.
Deutch, after serving as the bright light in so-so films like Before I Fall and Set It Up and then practically stealing Zombieland: Double Tap out from under everyone’s noses, finally has a movie to call her own. Along with proving she is as real a deal as you could ask for, she absolutely runs away with Buffaloed (with a gold-plated pistol in her hand and a smart pantsuit to boot).
The film, playing like a gonzo based-on-a-true story feature that would get heavy rotation on the Sundance Channel, comes out of the gate strong, completing immersing us in the scummy world of Glengarry Glen Ross-meets-My Name is Earl. Even when the film begins to falter just past the half-way point—as Peg spirals deeper and deeper into the seedy underbelly she’s already neck-deep in—Deutch’s super-charged performance is worth every penny. Plus, you get out of dropping big bucks for that insane margin on movie theater popcorn. Peg would be proud.