Lay The Favourite

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Lap dancer Beth (Hall) moves to Las Vegas to become a cocktail waitress. Chance, and her uncanny facility with numbers, land her a job with professional gambler Dink (Willis). But the volatility of Dink and his wife (Zeta-Jones) drive Beth away into illegal bookmaking.


Based on a true story (the memoir of stripper, boxer, journalist Beth Raymer), this ensemble comedy feels like it is stretching with all its might to become a clever caper, but that is too far beyond its grasp.

Rebecca Hall takes centre stage as tirelessly bubbly stripper Beth. Encouraged by her dad (Corbin Bernsen) to achieve her dream, she breezes off to Vegas with unquenchable enthusiasm for just about everything. Hall throws herself good-naturedly into this uninhibited spirit, but still comes across as affected as her relentlessly girly voice.

Falling in with eccentric men who spend their lives in front of banked screens, she still finds time to saunter around Vegas long enough for nice shots of the hotel casinos, which are more atmospheric than all the incomprehensible gambler get-togethers. Beth falls in and out of love (with Bruce Willis’ barking mad Dink, and later, with Joshua Jackson’s journo) and does this with the same careless relish that takes her to Curacao to run a highly illegal operation for N.Y. bookie Rosie (Vince Vaughn).

Meanwhile, Dink and his equally wacky wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), weather the storms of their marriage and team up to save Beth. Zeta-Jones may be the best thing in this movie, bravely making herself the butt of nicely pitched middle-age desperation humour.

All along one is anticipating Stephen Frears will show his Grifters chops, in the overly optimistic expectation of some well-plotted scheme developing, some snappy, astonishing twist or ‘all or nothing gamble’. But the script never comes up with anything of the kind.

If you don’t understand how the gambling in Vegas works you still won’t. Characters fast-talk numerical exposition and the ins and outs of odds-making, with little of it registering. A few beers in a US sports bar would make for a richer, more entertaining experience.

Particularly disappointing given the names involved, it’s only mildly amusing at best, and more often downright tedious.