A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: December 7, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: March 5, 2013
- Cast: Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rebecca Hall
- Director: Stephen Frears
- Studio: Radius TWC
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, some sexual content, brief drug use, and nudity
- Last updated: June 23, 2020
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