There are parts of Rough Night which hint at a darker, more subversive comedy just a few drafts away from the one on screen, and while it’s easy to lament a missed opportunity, it’s hard to care when the final product is so consistently funny. Although touted as a gender-swapped update of Very Bad Things, Rough Night is a very different thing indeed. While the former told a dark story about how greed and jealousy can rip apart friendships, the latter is more of a light-hearted affair, aiming for big laughs and a good time rather than shock value or moral skewering. Their similarities end at the concept: a party weekend leads to accidental manslaughter leads to panic leads to calamity.
The talent pool is second to none: Scarlett Johansson is the bride-to-be; Kate McKinnon is her oddball Aussie friend; Zoë Kravitz is the rich girl; Ilana Glazer the sexually ambiguous professional activist; and Jillian Bell, the perpetually horny elementary school teacher. They’ve been friends since college and are reuniting for a bachelorette rager in Miami. They drink, dance, snort cocaine, and pose for selfies before returning to their borrowed party mansion and ordering a stripper. One thing leads to another, the stripper ends up dead, and our group of inebriated protagonists decide to clean up the mess with increasingly zany and incriminating results.
You know the drill, and that’s the film’s core weakness. The bulk of the story relies on cliche (very funny cliche, mind you), moving the group through a series of familiar set pieces with equally familiar results. The proceedings are brisk and always hilarious, but one gets the sense that a much more subversive and lasting comedy exists outside of the mainstream framework. We get a taste of this in the supporting characters (the simultaneous bachelor party gets much closer to breaking the comedy mold than the main narrative), but as I said above, it’s really hard to feel too critical of anything. Rough Night sets out with a noble goal: to bring laughs. Mission accomplished.
Writer/director Lucia Aniello (who co-wrote with Paul W. Downs) comes to this project with a ton of goodwill in the form of Comedy Central’s Broad City. One of the strengths of Broad City is the way it depicts the friendship between the leading characters, Ilana and Abbi. They feel like real individuals and their bond is one that most can relate to. Their personalities make the humor feel more real, more enduring. It’s not the events that elicit laughter, but the people. This is somewhat lost in Rough Night. Each member of our lead quintet is written as a trope (or in the case of Zoë Kravitz’s character, barely written at all), and it weakens the attempt at a relatively wholesome denouement, making the desire for a darker film that much more pronounced. If the goal is to mine humor from events rather than character, Rough Night should have gone much harder.
But who am I kidding? I laughed hard for most of the movie and that’s a bar which is becoming increasingly harder to clear as I get older and more curmudgeonly. Heck, even Ty Burrell made me laugh and he’s the worst.
Rough Night opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.