Director: Lucia Aniello
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer
Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night takes a comedy sub-genre that is usually male dominated, the massive party/night out that goes terribly wrong, and flips the genders. The thing is though, that aside from a few notable exemptions the majority of films in this particular sub-genre are terrible. So, true to form, Rough Night is too. Borrowing its central premise – a party derailed by the accidental death of a stripper – from Peter Berg’s 1998 film Very Bad Things, Rough Night is a derivative mashing together of The Hangover, Bridesmaids and Weekend at Bernie’s.
A group of old college friends whose lives have taken them in different directions are reunited after almost a decade for a bachelorette weekend blowout in Miami. The bride to be, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), is in the midst of running for state senate in South Carolina, so isn’t exactly in the mood for a party weekend, but her possessive best friend, now school teacher, Alice (Jillian Bell) is insistent. They meet up with professional activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), wealthy socialite and soon to be divorce Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and an outsider, Jess’s Australian friend from her semester abroad, Pippa (Kate McKinnon). After an evening of shots and something a bit stronger, the quintet return to the beachside mansion they have borrowed from one of Jess’s donors where the girls have organised the requisite stripper. But no sooner has the stripper arrived he is killed from an accidental blow to the head. Opting not to call the police, the girls make a series of bad decisions in an effort to get rid of the body, taking things from bad to worse.
There is a substantial amount of talent in this cast, led by Johansson who, while not being a natural comedienne is clearly game. However, this talent is stifled by not being given a lot of character to work with. From the top down everyone is playing either a broad type or a caricature. Alice is the insecure friend who, knowing she is not as glamorous as Jess, is overly possessive of the friendship. Frankie’s aggressive lefty activism disguises the fact she has led a relatively privileged existence. Kate McKinnon, who gave a scene-stealing performance last year in Ghostbusters, makes a horrible attempt at an Australian accent seemingly for no other reason than the thought that it would be funny for Pippa to be Australian. At the supporting level you have Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the horny swinger couple living next door. None of these characters feel lived in and as a result the relationships between them don’t feel authentic. You understand that these are supposed to be long-standing friendships which have evolved over time, but you don’t really believe it and therefore you don’t really care. So there go the emotional stakes, which even the silliest of comedies requires.
In her feature directorial debut, Lucia Aniello – who is best known for her work on the TV series Broad City and co-writes here with another Broad City alum Paul W. Downs – opts for a very broad, lowest-common-denominator style of comedy, with a lot of the jokes falling flat. Of course there are some laughs. There always are. It would take a concerted effort to miss 100% of the time. For example, the contrast between the girls rowdy night out and the boys gathering for a very civilised wine tasting again effectively plays with that reversal of stereotypes. While the film is dependent on people making bad choices, they have to be believably bad choices. The girls panicked decision to try and get rid of the body rather than call the police is a believable one. Jess’s straight-laced fiancé’s decision to drive non-stop across the country slamming Red Bulls and Adderall and wearing adult diapers so he needn’t stop is not a believable decision. Too often the film overplays its hand, and generally speaking the silence in the theatre was deafening.
Having seen many a men-behaving-badly comedy over the years, there is a certain freshness in seeing female characters given the opportunity to let their hair down, and having a female director at the helm is something that the films of Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer have yet to boast. It is just a shame that is the only thing Rough Night has to offer in terms of freshness or interest. A third act twist brings some life to proceedings just when things are getting really dire, but ultimately isn’t enough to resurrect the film.
Review by Duncan McLean
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