By Nathan Evans
Comedy is a tricky thing to pull off, and it becomes even trickier when it’s married to dark subject matter. For my tastes there are very few dark comedies or dramadies that actually work. Usually the final result ends up erring too far on the dramatic side to even be considered a comedy (*cough* ‘Rescue Me’ on FX *cough*) or is too dark to laugh at (*cough* ‘Bad Santa’ *cough*). So a film like ‘Rough Night’ has the deck stacked against it from the start.
The film from writer/ director Lucia Aniello and co-writer Paul W. Downs (two of a stable of writers from Comedy Central’s hit show ‘Broad City’) follows a group of former college friends who meet up for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami. Jess (Scarlett Johansson), a young professional running for public office, has basically been goaded into the weekend by her overly enthusiastic friend Alice (’22 Jump Street’s’ Jillian Bell), who, in true raunchy, R-rated comedy fashion, is hell bent on ensuring that her best friend’s final weekend as an engaged women is as wild as it can be. The pair are joined by peripheral groupies/ former lovers Blair (‘Mad Max: Fury Road’s’ Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Illana Glazer, the lesser half of the ‘Broad City’ starring duo), as well as Jess’ Australian friend from an internship abroad, Pippa (SNL’s breakout star Kate McKinnon). Once in Miami the group proceed to engage in bad behavior reminiscent of ‘The Hangover’ that includes doing copious amounts of cocaine, drinking inhuman amounts of alcohol, and the ordering of a male stripper. Things take a bad turn when Alice, undersexed and over-high (the film’s proclamation, not mine), decides to straddle the unprepared stripper and accidentally bangs his head on the hearth of a fireplace, killing him. Inebriated, the group of women struggle to figure out what to do with the body while navigating their tenuous friendships.
‘Rough Night’ clearly boasts a strong cast, but unfortunately the material fails them. The film’s premise alone makes it difficult to like or sympathize with any of them, and with the exception of Mckinnon’s Pippa and Johansson’s Jess, who seem good natured enough, and Kravitz’s Blair, who’s generally underdeveloped anyway, the characters are aggressively off putting. Glazer’s Frankie is made out to be a hypocrite from the start and Bell’s Alice is so obnoxious you’ll hope they’ll lock her up the second she cracks the stripper’s head open; an event that comes too far in the film’s runtime and is so out of left field it marks a tonal shift the film is never quite able to recover from. To make matters worse, a few twists and turns follow the event that basically nullify its impact anyway.
Despite the inherent unlikeable nature of the characters, ‘Rough Night’ could’ve been a successful examination of the bonds of long term friendships. Some interesting character moments emerge in the few moments where the film takes its focus away from the body. In particular a scene where Jess and Alice finally address the rift that’s emerged between them is almost poignant to the point that you’ll wonder why the movie couldn’t have just focused on that.
With all of that said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the film did manage to wring out a few good belly laughs from me. McKinnon is a performer that can be funny standing still, and the movie manages to work in enough cameos from notable comedic performers like Bo Burnham (who can be good in small doses) and Ty Burrell (who’s always good) to keep one engaged throughout. Some of the more female centric comedic beats are particularly funny and informative as well, and, again, make you wonder why the film couldn’t have just focused on that aspect. There’s even a subplot involving Jess’ fiancé (writer Paul W. Downs) and his effeminate friends that paint a possible picture of what some women believe men do when they’re alone that would’ve made for a particularly inspired piece of entertainment on its own.
‘Rough Night’ isn’t the actively awful train wreck that I assumed it would be from the trailers, but it isn’t a good film either. Sure there are some laugh out loud moments, but they come too few and far between; especially when you consider the level of talent in front of the camera. Jillian Bell has proven she can be quite funny in the past, so it’s troubling to find her so unappealing here. Between this film and last years even worse effort ‘Office Christmas Party’ I’m beginning to wonder if her breakout role in ’22 Jump Street’ wasn’t just a fluke. Hopefully she’ll be able to turn things around with whatever she’s got coming next.
RATING: 2.75 OUT OF 5
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