I had some serious reservations regarding seeing this movie despite really liking the cast. How many mishaps at a party comedies do we really need? This looked to be a remake of Weekend at Bernies, The Hangover, Very Bad Things, Bridesmaids or any of a number of other more forgettable films along these same lines. Plus, it has a title so rote and uninspired you have to wonder how good the writing can possibly be, and bad writing makes for a film which is D.O.A. However, the other films coming out this week were Cars 3, talk about rote and uninspired ideas, and All Eyez on Me, which did interest me the most initially, but its complete lack of critic screenings in addition to some very bad word of mouth made me decide to take a chance on Rough Night.
Rough Night is the story of Jess played by Scarlett Johansson who is running for state senate and whose wedding to Peter (Paul W. Downs) is impending, so Jess’ four closest friends from her college years played by Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, and Kate McKinnon throw her a bachelorette party in Miami complete with palatial beach house, cocaine, a stripper, and various penis shaped party favors. When one of the five ladies accidentally kills the stripper, we find that each of the women has a good reason why they don’t want the police getting involved and so hilarity ensues as they try to dispose of the body in a manner no one can find it.
Rough Night‘s tone is all over the place. We have sly humor as we see the juxtaposition of the wild party atmosphere of the bachelorette party versus the more cultured bachelor party going on back in Jess’ unnamed home town. We have the over the top characterizations of the always horny and very open neighbors of the beach house played by Demi Moore and Ty Burrell. Jillian Bell is also very much playing a stereotype more for laughs than character, but Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Kravitz, and Ilana Glazer give us some performances that toe the line between comic and dramatic, and McKinnon’s performance can go in any old direction depending on the scene and her mood.
But, while the tonal inconsistencies do stand out like a sore thumb, I can’t say that they don’t work. The film’s story does go all over the place. The death of the stripper and the immediate aftermath isn’t played for laughs, and that actually gives the situation some gravity. While the acting styles are all over the place, they all work for the character actress combination. You look to Bell and McKinnon for the belly laughs, to Kravitz and Glazer for the smarter, more subtle comedy, and Johansson is the anchor that holds it all together. It doesn’t work perfectly, some scenes such as a bit where Jess’ fiance panics over not being able to get a hold of Jess and decides he must get to her as soon as possible is completely out of character for everything we’ve seen earlier and is not funny largely because of this, but the tonal shifting works well enough that it seems to be the right fit for this particular film.
The rest of the writing in Rough Night is just as inconsistent as its tone, in a way. We have one of the most worn out, mundane stories in existence with the raucous party gone wrong plot, and nothing about the story itself elevates it all above the banality of the premise, but the dialogue and the deft handling of the overused situations are actually very well done. Each of the characters really is a character beyond just being a different level on the slapstick scale. The lesbian and bisexual issues are handled without delving into stereotype and are nuanced, sensitive to the topic, but still absolutely hilarious. McKinnon and Bell despite being the closest characters to caricature actually end up having very nice payoffs and we find there is a reason they acted the way they did which makes sense. The only poor writing to be seen here is, again, with the character of Jess’ fiancee who never seems to have any consistent personality aside from the fact that he’s madly in love with Jess.
Final verdict: Rough Night is a mundane film, that fortunately manages to overcome its own mundanity much of the time. The plot is nothing special in the least, and is ultimately completely forgettable, but the charm of the characters and the actors portraying them in addition to the snappy and often truly insightful dialogue make Rough Night a film worth seeing. It’s not worth running right out and seeing it in the theater, however. There is nothing about the visuals that would make this any better on the big screen, and while Rough Night is better than I imagined it could have been, it’s still nowhere close to a great film, so waiting for it to come to Redbox or Netflix is probably the way to go, except possibly for a group girl’s night. Then the theater could be a blast.