Debt never dies.
That’s the mantra held up as a banner for Tanya Wexler’s Buffaloed, a film which delves into the seedy underbelly of debt collection and its effect on the nation. Set in the oft-forgotten city of Buffalo, NY, the film introduces us to Peg Dahl, a young woman who will do anything to escape her hometown. After making some questionable choices, Peg is arrested and forced to re-evaluate her strategy. With a criminal record and crippling debt, Peg begins to see that her future as a business woman is suddenly in question. When she begins to work with a local debt collector, Peg believes that she may have found a way to start over and climb her way up a different type of corporate ladder.
Written by Brian Sacca and directed by Wexler, Buffaloed is a snappy and lively comedy that thrives on the charm and enthusiasm of its lead, Zoey Deutch. Though surrounded by an excellent supporting cast that features the always amazing Judy Greer, the gruff growl of Jai Courtney and solid performances from Jermaine Fowler and Noah Reid, it’s Deutch that sets the tone for the film as the fiery but lovable schemer, Peg Dahl. In almost every scene, Deutch absolutely sparkles, exhibiting an earnestness and charm behind Peg’s never-ending quest for cash. Her confidence and charisma are infectious, energizing the script and elevating the cast around her in ways that keep the film enjoyable throughout.
At times popping with the energy of McKay’s The Big Short, Buffaloed is a testament to the destructive nature of debt and its effect on the souls of those afflicted by it. Peg’s journey into the world of [low] finance reveals the struggles of people who have been burdened by long-term debt. In each case, the indebted are harassed and threatened in order to collect on what they owe their creditors. (In some cases, the debt collectors even resort to collecting more than once from the elderly who struggle to recall whether or not they’ve already paid.) As they struggle to make payments, the indebted are not only crushed under the financial burden but they also remain shackled with the shame, regardless of the reason for their losses. While some have fallen victim to their own greed, most of those being preyed upon are simply dealing with the realities of medical bills and student loans which continue to follow them throughout their lives. Behind the broad comedy, Buffaloed has a sympathetic heart for those who are burdened by debt and points to the injustice of those who seek to exploit them.
With this in mind, Buffaloed also uses Peg’s character arc to speak into the challenges (and importance) of contentment. Ever since she was a child, Peg has focused her life on breaking free from poverty by making as much money as she can. Still, as she sees the damage that lays waste to her friends and family, Peg’s perception of her life goals is also challenged. For her, the question of achievement is confronted with the reality of contentment. Though contentment does not necessarily mean being satisfied with a life that is lacking, Peg’s obsession with money pushes her to ignore the relationships and mistreat the people already in her life that are worth celebrating. For someone who says that ‘all [she] knows is the hustle’, this shift in worldview becomes both threatening and enticing to Peg. While her greatest fear remains settling for the status quo, the idea of finding peace in something more than her bank account is something that may be worth fighting for.
In a world of superheroes and live-action remakes of animated properties, it’s likely that Buffaloed may have slipped under the radar in the theatres. As such, the world of PVOD actually serves the film well in that, hopefully, stories such as this can have their day in the sun. Filled with charm and energetic performances (especially Deutch), Buffaloed is a gamble that definitely pays off.
Buffaloed premieres online on June 16th, 2020.