By Kyle Woolridge
Trivia Night is the perfect underdog story: protagonist is humiliated and embarrassed while attempting to fight unbeatable odds, sulks for a few years while slowly learning from his mistakes and prepping for a second chance, faces setbacks, and ultimately prevails despite the world seemingly working against him. Sounds like a classic sports movie, right? Well, this movie isn’t set in any stadium or arena, but the New York bar scene. The sport? Trivia.
Scott Nadler, former quiz bowl champion, goes on the popular television show Trivia Night in an attempt to be the first person ever to answer all ten questions correctly. Despite his confidence and obvious intellect, he cracks under the pressure and answers the very first question wrong. He then spends the next five years obsessing over learning as much trivia as possible and earns his living off of prize money from various bar trivia competitions, until he’s finally given an opportunity to be the contestant on the last ever episode of the show.
This movie is the first feature film written and produced by Addison Anderson, Colin Drummond, and Michael Molina. With a budget of just $37,000, these three make every penny count in this funny, intelligent, and unique movie. You would think that since this is their first film, it would be painfully obvious, but the production quality feels just as good as I would have expected from a movie about New York trivia culture. It isn’t flashy with over-the-top extravagant sets, expensive CGI aliens, and huge explosions, but everything felt very natural. Since Scott is living solely off of his prize money (a very low paying career), it makes sense that his New York apartment is small and not very well decorated. The producing team also made a brilliant move in tailoring the script to their budget: they had the majority of the film take place in different bars that would allow them to film there for free. I didn’t even think twice about how many bar scenes there are because it just makes sense given the content.
The Trivia Night set in the movie was perfect: a dark room, a large round table, and a big sign in the background with the title of the show. Simple, yet exactly what you would expect from an old television quiz show. It is very pleasant to see that the budget doesn’t distract from the story of the film. Thankfully, it actually didn’t seem to be an issue at all for them.
Not only do the producers hide their lack of money, but they also avoid letting their lack of experience show. The cinematography and sound design in the film are wonderful and up to the quality of any big budget movie, if not better. The shots in the movie are beautifully composed, interesting, and well thought out. The score is compelling and sets the mood for the movie perfectly. All the technical aspects of the film are just as good as I would expect from a movie with ten times this film’s budget.
Addison Anderson, who portrays Scott, does a great job with the dynamic character he helped write. Scott is the protagonist of the film yet he also feels like the antagonist at the same time. He has a toxic personality, isolating himself from the rest of the world, pushing away his friends, and focusing all of his attention obsessing over learning as much as he possibly can. Anderson does a great job subtly showing this without throwing it in the audience’s faces.
The last thing I want to discuss in this movie was the writing. The writing in this movie felt very natural and real, which is refreshing in a world of scripted situations and forced comedy. The jokes in this movie are effortlessly witty. The dialogue almost feels as if it was improvised on the spot between a group of friends hanging out, even though Anderson assured us after the film during the Q&A that everything was completely scripted. Each of the characters feel like real people and their relationships with each other feel like they could have been straight out of our real lives. Grimley, the funny best friend to Scott, is so relatable that I could think of someone in my real life who is similar to the character.
The one issue I have with this otherwise well produced, written, and filmed movie is the antagonist Davis. Davis is Scott’s old quiz bowl teammate who is also competing with him for the title of Trivia Night champion. When Davis is first introduced, he doesn’t take anything seriously, joking around and teasing Scott just like an old friend would. Scott, being distant and isolated, shows obvious discontent for Davis, but that doesn’t seem to affect Davis. Then, seemingly without reason, Davis turns on Scott and is focused on crushing him as if it had been his goal since the first time they were on the show. While this character inconsistency is relatively minor, I feel as though it could have been changed in one of two ways. The first way would be for Davis to remain oblivious to Scott’s hatred and to just continue to joke around with his friend throughout the movie. The other option would be for Davis to reveal just before the final showdown that he had been using Scott all along to improve his own performance, which he does do, but he has already shown hostility toward Scott before this point, so the reveal doesn’t feel as dramatic as it could have. These character changes would have been fairly simple, and I think it’s the only area in which the filmmakers’ inexperience showed.
When all is said and done, Trivia Night is a wonderful, funny, and different movie that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of their taste in movies. These filmmakers worked very hard to make this movie happen and it paid off for them.