Rough Night is not a game changer, yet it still is pretty fresh. It is a summer comedy that delivers on what it promises, a fun time at the movies and manages to be a very moving film.
Rough Night seems paradoxically classic yet incredible new. It has the feel, look, and creative DNA of a raunchy screwball comedy from the 80’s (Weekend at Bernie’s) with a modern raunchy R comedy of average people getting into adventures on misunderstandings (Pineapple Express). The movie takes a traditionally raunchy R-rated comedy (drugs, sex references, shoot outs) normally reserved for men and shows how compatible that set ups and plot decorations are with women in the lead role. It is more than just a gender flipped Hangover (so please stop calling it that).
The plot involves Jess (Scarlet Johannson), a busy woman who is running for public office and about to get married to her fiancée (Paul W. Downs). Her old college roommate and best friend Alice (Jillian Bell) organizes a bachelorette party in Miami with their old college friends; Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) who used to be a couple. Also invited is Pippa (Kate McKinnon) a friend Jess meet from her study abroad program in Australia. During their hard partying, they accidentally kill a male stripper. Amidst the craziness of trying to conceal the body, they have to confront the realities of growing up.
It’s a simple set up. Lock five interesting personalities in one visually interesting location with a unique circumstances with high stakes and allow the five personalities to bounce off each other. It almost works like a stage play. Much of the film either making/breaking on the strength of the cast. The whole cast in wonderful, not a single miscast in the bunch. The strength here is that these are all talented individuals, with the key being the five leads have believable chemistry.
Scarlet Johansson is one of the most in demand actresses on the planet. While the studio and the cynical may see her casting as “get a movie star to draw in people” the filmmakers cast her because she is a talented actress. Johansson plays a great straight woman with her reactions selling half the absurdity of her costars.
Zoë Kravitz is given a chance to show off her comedic chops, and you wouldn’t believe this is her first comedy. She has such great timing and chemistry with her cast mates it feels like she has been doing this for years.
Ilana Glazer has been doing wonderful work on Broad City for years, and now gets a shine in a major motion picture. She is so good in that role that she could do it in her sleep and still be funny. Thankfully she isn’t asleep and is on full energy here. Her character cites real life incidents of crimes against women committed by men. This serves as comedy because neither the audience or fellow characters know anything about it, but also depressing the large number of issues she can cite without anyone knowing.
Kate McKinnon has been a power player on SNL for years. She was a scene stealer in last years Ghostbusters reboot. Here she not only proves herself as a comedic film icon where they let her go full-blown over the top which is where McKinnon has always been at her funniest.
Jillian Bell is probably the real MVP of the picture though. She must balance some of the most cartoonish behavior in the film along with being the center for the one serious dramatic moment. She walks the line very well and really sells it in the dramatic moment that shows while she is a great comedian she is an untapped talent.
Ty Burrell and Demi Moore have a small but hilarious role as the sexually charged neighbors. One standout is Paul W. Downs as Peter, the fiancée who after a misunderstanding on the phone ends up driving to Miami to save his marriage. I didn’t know what to expect from it. I was left wondered if his B story would take away from the momentum from the A story of the girls covering up the murder. It was a pleasant surprise and hope to see more of him.
Allow me to spotlight first time film director Lucia Aniello. While comedies like Bridesmaids, Trainwreck and Bad Moms have funny women at their center, they all have male directors at the helm. Lucia Aniello puts a unique female perspective on the film. Since our heroes are women and one is a person of color killing a white man they are hesitant as to how that will look to the cops. That is clever way of getting around the “way not call the cops” question but also serves as a depressing reminder of the real world.
The contrast between the women’s raunchy night out with the juxtapose of the men being “untraditional.” They are having a nice quite night in with a wine tasting, talking about past relationships. This different form of masculinity is a counterpoint but the movie next implicitly makes fun of the guys behavior. It’s just part of who they are which is not only funny but comforting. They also have a lot of clever jabs at current politics. Scarlet Johannsson’s character running for senate and her being a woman puts her under greater scrutiny than to her sexually aggressive predatory opponent.
Depth in a Comedy
The comparison to the Hangover and Bridesmaids seem to come from a very surface level reading of the films trailers. The real comparison is 2012’s Bachelorette. Yet barely anyone saw that film so it doesn’t make for a grabbing headline. The film thematically has more in common with Superbad or the holiday film The Night Before. In so much that it’s about childhood friends having to fight to maintain their friendship as time moves on and begin to develop lives of their own. The main narrative tension coming from does growing up also mean growing apart?
Rough Night also has the mix of dark/slap stick comedy of hiding a body in Frank Capra’s 1944 Arsenic and Old Lace. A classic and another movie you should check out. Consider this a bonus recommendation.
Dramatic being a key word there. While the film gets sillier as the situation with the body escalates, it is the characters relationships amongst each other that keeps the film grounded. This eventually builds to a moment where the comedy stops and all the characters air their grievances with one another. It gets hurtful. You want them to undercut it with a joke like they do in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Nope. These things are going to be said because the tension has built up and there is no going back. The friendship has been so well established that them getting caught isn’t what is at stake. It’s if they can stay friends. You are almost left wondering if the film can recover from that moment. Thankfully it does yet the third act of the film isn’t as funny as the first two acts. Those first two acts had the benefit of setting up jokes and being incredible ridiculous fun good time romp. The third act escalates to a point that fits. Yet it does stop the jokes and the girls bonding moments.
Rough Night may not be the greatest comedy. It is at this moment in time is the comedy that people need and more people should go see. For far to long the R-rated comedy has been a boy’s only club, and this new women’s perspective is a refreshing change of pace. It sets out to entertain and make the audience laugh, and I think it succeeds better than most comedies do. Check out Rough Night and stay through the credits for not one, but two bonus scenes.
Rough Night Grade: A –