For better or for worse, Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin with the firehose going at full blast. If you’re a fan of Sorkin and his many –isms, then you’ll be in for a cinematic treat as there’s nearly two and a half hours of rapid-fire dialog to get through. If, like me, you’re something of an apostate about his writing, then prepare for a mixture of some good, some bad, and a pure distillation of Sorkin with nothing to muzzle him.
It’s an odd story for Sorkin to throw in for his directorial debut, but at least he’s got Jessica Chastain to deliver his lengthy verbal passages, narration, and try to keep your attention for the whole time. Chastain brings a fiery intensity, subtle bits of humor, and icy intelligence to the material, and turns Sorkin’s writing into a one-woman opera. It is one hell of a performance from an actress that has given us a bevy of impressive performances in a short amount of time, and it continues on with her penchant for mercurial and chameleonic tricks. Even when the script gives her some clunkers to deliver, or even questionable thoughts to spit out, she nearly makes it all work.
There’s still some shocks to be found in Molly’s Game, namely in Michael Cera. The harmless looking funnyman takes on a rare villainous role here that displays a swirling undercurrent of malice that hasn’t been tapped into before. So praise goes to Sorkin for looking at the dweeby kid from Arrested Development and seeing the potential for something more and deeper in him. Hidden within Molly’s Game are several small nuggets of shocking casting choices, pieces of dialog, or scenarios that make it zing when you think it’s going to zag, and they make this overly long film worth the journey.
Pity the same can’t be said for Kevin Costner as Molly’s dad, a demanding and exacting bastard that disappears for a long stretch only to show up at the end of the narrative to explain to Molly the “why” of her. This is Sorkin at his worst impulses and instincts, and Costner can’t seem to overcome the hurdle and makes an already unpleasant scene into an exercise in tedium and contrivance. Molly’s character has been displayed enough up to this point that this scene feels mildly superfluous and smug. Even when he’s trying to avoid it, Sorkin can’t help himself from mansplaining to his female characters.
The major problem with Molly’s Game is one of indulgence. Sorkin’s verbal pyrotechnics are already enough, but allowing him to director is just too much. Nothing about the story feels or plays out in a naturalistic manner even when Sorkin’s camera plays out as such. Then there’s his history of treating life and his characters as a meritocracy, and this is evident from the opening moments when Molly gives us a recitation of her résumé and never lets up from there. At times, a certain feeling of self-parody creeps into the material, most likely unintentional but it’s there.