Lay the Favorite

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Lay the Favorite Movie Poster Image
Talky, uneven "true story" comedy has sex, language.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The main character pulls herself out of a bad situation and slowly starts to make more positive decisions for herself. In the end, she's able to solve a complex problem and help others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character is ultimately a pretty positive role model, though she begins the story as a stripper and seems fairly ditzy for a while. Though she works in the (slightly illegal) gambling business, she eventually betters herself, takes the initiative, and begins to use her head. She ends the story in a much better place than she began it.

Violence

A few violent threats (with violent imagery), but no actual violence.

Sex

Two secondary female characters are shown sunbathing topless in one scene. The main character begins the film as a stripper and is shown performing suggestive dances (though not naked). She falls in love with and attempts to seduce a married man (holding hands, etc.). Later, she meets a single man and kisses him passionately. They move offscreen to a hotel room for sex. The main character references a porn website that she worked for.

Language

"F--k" is used fairly often, plus "s--t," "c--t," "bastard," "ass," "goddamn," and "scumbag," as well as "oh my God," "Jesus," and "Christ" (as exclamations).

Consumerism

The main character's Apple iPhone is shown fairly often but not referenced by name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character sips a margarita in the opening scene. A secondary character drinks a huge gin and tonic after a tense argument.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lay the Favorite is an uneven, unappealing comedy based on a memoir about a woman who moves from stripping to working in the sports betting industry. Language is the strongest issue, with very frequent use of "f--k," "s--t," and other words. There's also a fair bit of sexual content: Viewers see two topless women, suggestive dancing, a woman flirting with a married man, and kissing (which leads to off-screen sex). There's some shouting and violent threats, but no actual violence.

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What's the story?

Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall) is a ditzy stripper who dreams of becoming a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. Upon arriving there, she finds that jobs are hard to come by -- but a neighbor introduces her to sports betting maven Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis). Working for him, Beth finally uses her head for numbers and brings Dink good luck. Trouble arises when Beth becomes attracted to Dink and Dink's wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones). And things get worse when Beth goes to work for the shady "Rosie" (Vince Vaughn), starts taking bets from a gambler with a dark secret (John Carroll Lynch), and involves her new boyfriend (Joshua Jackson).

Is it any good?

If truth is funnier than fiction, you'd never know it from this overwritten, uneven, jerky comedy, which is apparently based on a memoir. Director Stephen Frears is usually quite trustworthy, regularly working with both strong screenplays and great performers (see High Fidelity, The Queen, etc.). But with LAY THE FAVORITE, he's clearly floundering. Beth switches from dumb to smart and changes her affections and friendships in the space of a couple of scenes. The movie has no logical or character flow.

For amateurs, the gambling sequences are confusing, and nothing feels as organic or as genuine as it could have. Characters spend too much time explaining the plot to each other verbally, rather than Frears finding ways to show it. The only strong points come during the scenes that Hall and Willis share. Their chemistry generates something genuine, which is lost when the movie separates them during most of the second half.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Lay the Favorite's sexual references. How does the main character feel about her past career as a stripper and working for a porn website? How do her attitudes toward sex change over the course of the story?

  • Is Beth a role model? How does she change over the story? What does (and doesn't) she learn?

  • According to Bruce Willis' character, is it more important to make more money or to live a fuller life? Why?

Movie details

For kids who love comedy

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