“The best things in life are free,” sing The Rolling Stones, “You can give them to the birds and bees. I want money! Yeah, that’s what I want.” These lines capture pretty well the central motivation of Peg Dahl in the comedy Buffaloed. She wants money. She says more than once that she doesn’t want to stop being poor, she wants to start getting rich. She wants to make so much money that in the future, girls will want to grow up to be just like her.
But there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to riches in Buffalo, New York. Peg (Zoey Deutch, Flower, Everybody Wants Some!!) gets into an Ivy League college, but she can’t afford tuition, and student loans seem to her like a poverty sentence. The only way toward riches that she knows is the one she learned from her late father, the one she’s been practicing since she was a kid—the hustle. In the poor parts of Buffalo, it seems you can’t make money by playing by the rules, and even breaking the rules only makes life more expensive. And so the greatest opportunity for wealth turns out to be debt collection.
Taking a call from a debt collector, Peg realizes she’d be better than him at doing what he does. “You’re not a debt collector,” she explains, “You’re a salesman. You’re supposed to be selling relief.” She gets inspired. She goes in to meet the debt collectors and makes a deal with them: if she collects more debt in a month than anyone else, her own debt will be forgiven. In the process, not only does she find that she is really good at “selling relief,” she also finds that the debt collectors are a bunch of chauvinist douchebags. So she decides to go it on her own, gathering together a group of unconventional salespeople—and thereby starting a “war” with her previous “gang” of debt collectors.
I’m honestly surprised by how much I liked Buffaloed, because throughout the whole movie, I kept noticing weaknesses that made me think it wasn’t technically that great. Sometimes the writing seemed unrefined, like it needed more editing and revision. And Peg is the kind of character who always acts like she’s being funny, even though she’s not always funny. It doesn’t help that the film’s style invites comparison to movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, but it doesn’t measure up to them. The fast pace, the subject matter, and the way Buffaloed breaks the fourth wall, interrupting the story to explain financial concepts, all call those other movies to mind. If director Tanya Wexler and writer Brian Sacca wanted this movie to rise to that level of comedy-meets-serious-exposé, then I’m afraid they didn’t quite succeed.
But ultimately I think it’s a mistake to compare this movie to those. Buffaloed is more like a good high school movie, like Mean Girls or Risky Business. In that respect, it’s exactly what it should be: fun, without lacking real depth.
And it really is fun. I smiled a lot. I had a good time watching it. And it’s also funny—not hold-your-gut funny, but generally humorous and featuring some great moments. I laughed a lot, too
The chemistry between the characters is quite good as well. It makes hanging out with them enjoyable. The movie also has a really fast pace, which keeps it exciting and lively.
And while sometimes I did find Peg just a little too extra, I mostly thought she was charming. Not only is she jovial and entertaining, but at the right moments she is vulnerable and compelling. I also have a particular affinity for anti-hero types. I don’t like characters that are too good (*cough* Captain America *cough*). Maybe it’s because I’m a degenerate, but I like it when there’s a problematic streak in a character. (I must admit, when I read the synopsis for Buffaloed on the Tribeca Film Festival website, which described a young woman who finds her calling as a debt collector of all things, my eyebrows went up and I mischievously marked the screening in my calendar.)
While Buffaloed isn’t quite the biting satire of the debt collection industry that it wants to be, it makes up for it by being a lot of fun. And despite having problems with it, I still left smiling, feeling satisfied.