Review: Rough Night (2017)

Rough Night

Rating

Director

Lucia Aniello

Screenplay

Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs

Length

1h 41m

Starring

Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Kate McKinnon, Paul W. Downs, Ryan Cooper, Ty Burrell, Demi Moore, Enrique Murciano, Dean Winters, Colton Haynes, Patrick Carlyle, Eric Andre, Bo Burnham, Hasan Minhaj, Karan Soni, Laura Grey, Mark Tallman

MPAA Rating

R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images

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Review

Titles too often can presage the end result of a film’s quality, Rough Night is both figuratively and literally exemplified by its title. Attempting to recapture both their drug-fueled college days and the long-term friendships that developed, a group of friends reunite for a bachelorette party where events predictably go wrong. The film often struggles to find a voice that’s both funny and engaging.

Scarlett Johansson stars as Jess, a burgeoning political figure on the cusp of her wedding to Peter (Paul W. Downs), a loving, open companion who does not fear the debauchery he no doubt expects from his fiancée’s wild weekend trip to Florida. Jess meets up with college friends Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) at the Miami airport, and are later joined by Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon), who has no connection to these other women, but doesn’t seem to mind being the odd woman out.

After partying hard a local nightclub, the quintet return to the beach house. When the stripper arrives, things get out of hand leading to his death. Panic, guilt, and scheming lead to a string of increasingly ludicrous events as fear of arrest, career termination, and the utter collapse of friendships threaten our heroines.

Director Lucia Aniello has spent most of her career working in television, where compact storytelling is a must. Her screenplay, co-written by co-star Downs, feels like it might have been more compelling and tightly written were it made as a TV series. Padding the width with awkward silences doesn’t make for a fun time.

The film struggles to find a voice that excites the audience, shifting from raucous exuberance to subdued excitement. The two tones don’t fit well together and the audience is left catching itself in the abrupt starts and stops the editing employs. Comedies like this need to be rapid-fire and need to move fairly quickly to create the kind of frantic pace the film suggests without typifying.

Looking at masters of this type of farce for inspiration, directors like Blake Edwards and, to a lesser extent, Mel Brooks, understood how to keep jokes flying while moving their plots along steadily. Even the most recent and comparative example, The Hangover, didn’t afford itself too much downtime between events and was significantly more entertaining as a result.

From a plotting standpoint, this film avoids many of the pitfalls Hangover and its ilk fall into easily. That does not apply to a rather labored side story involving Peter’s own bachelor party, which uses pointless and disappointing stereotypes for the kinds of laughs we have criticized many other films for employing. However, it does apply to how these women handle issues of bisexuality, polyamory, and other subjects that films like Hangover use as punchlines. When they come up, they aren’t the subject of derision, rather the laughs are from how different the participants felt or responded instead of for being ridiculed as outside the norm.

That openness is one of the reasons why Rough Night doesn’t feel as toilsome as it could have. By flipping the narrative in a substantive and enlightening way, they’ve opened up a new avenue for others trying to find humorous ways to be relevant without being reductive. If anything, that’s what Aniello does right. There are some amazingly funny moments in the film and while the performances are merely adequate, the combination of humor and forward-thinking narrative construction make for a modestly enjoyable watch.

Rough Night will never win awards, but it deserves some small measure of recognition for attempting to plow the same fields as others while planting new and improved crops at the same time.

Oscar Prospects

None

Review Written

August 2, 2017

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