Synopsis – Things go terribly wrong for a group of girlfriends who hire a male stripper for a bachelorette party in Miami.
My Take – With the sudden wave of feminism hitting Hollywood, it’s not surprising this ensemble comedy was hatched to capitalize on the basic idea of replacing girls with guys in a situation we have seen before. Sure, the all the girls Ghostbusters didn’t do that well (personally I loved it), and we have an A list female cast leading next year’s Ocean’s Eight (can’t wait for it), but I guess the critical & commercial success of Paul Feig‘s 2011 film Bridesmaids yet remains a proof that the ladies can play just as rough in delivering as men no matter what genre, including truly inspired raunch-com moments, however, this film is also a proof that they can also deliver mediocre fair with the same lack of conviction as their coasting male counterparts. Modeled after films like The Hangover, Very Bad Things, and Weekend at Bernie’s, this Lucia Aniello directed film is a very raunchy, simplistic, and over the top comedy that has little sustenance outside of the attempt at humor. It’s ridiculousness at times is clever, but these moments are few and far between, buried under the comedy rubble that fills this film. Aggressive innuendos come rushing out of the woodwork, many delivered in the overdramatic manner that somehow seems to be popular and entertaining to many. Some of the material sticks and most of it awkwardly bounces off. The story follows Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), former college best friends, who reunite for Jess’s bachelorette weekend in Miami. Grown apart all this years, equations between the four have changed drastically due to their diverse choices post college life. Engaged to Peter (Paul W. Downs), Jess is a concerned citizen running for the state senate, Blair and Frankie were a couple in college, but things have been bitter between them as Blair ended up turning into a successful career woman who married a man, while Frankie turned into an unemployed semi-professional liberal activist. The person who has changed the least is the one who organized this getaway weekend, Alice, a lonely (and horny) elementary school teacher whose only real joy in life comes from being part of Jess’ life.
Alice is sure that she’s Jess’ best friend, until Pippa (Kate McKinnon), a friend from Jess’ semester in Australia, arrives for the party. A night of drinking (which is somewhat awkward because of Alice’s jealousy of Pippa) turns into a party at the ladies’ borrowed glass house on the beach – and soon gets completely out of hand. The girls order a stripper and pizza. When a guy knocks on their door, the girls whisk him in and he starts dancing for them. The now-uptight Jess gets offended by his dirty talk, so the girls sit him in her chair and, after taking a running start, Alice jumps into the guy’s lap. He falls backward, hits his head on the corner of the fireplace ledge – and dies! As the girls argue about what to do next, decide to move the body and then work on various ideas of how to get rid of it, they struggle to hide what has happened from their nosy, swinging neighbors (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell), someone walking their dog and several people who knock on the front door for various reasons. In the meantime, an upsetting interrupted phone call from Jess leads her fiancé to leave his humorously lame bachelor party and take a road trip down to Miami to try and preserve his engagement. The women all (of course) bond in the process. Unlike comparable films, this latest foray into raunchy, teen-oriented comedy (the girls here are older, but nevertheless engage in college-age rascality) doesn’t push any boundaries. It isn’t fresh or bold enough to include a single moment that can come to define the film – specifically when it comes to describing it or reminiscing about it with others. There’s urination, sex, racism, brief political jabs, drinking, drugs, vibrators, and penis jokes. Someone even utters the phrase, “Swimming in dick.” But none of it is notably edgy. In fact, the introduction of kinky neighbors, the rebelliousness of hiring sex workers, mischievousness in a borrowed mansion, the overly obnoxious friends, and even the central switcheroo are trite and stale. Nothing comes out of left field; nothing is jaw-dropping. And this is to say nothing of the dead-stripper routine, which has been done so many times in film that it is, by itself, a popular cliché. Part of what will end up working for you while watching this film depends on what you look in a comedy. Here, at times the film channels the frazzled energy of The Hangover (2009) while at others it’s stretching for the “what are we going to do now” immediacy of a black comedy. It sometimes sinks in the tepid character dynamics of a Judd Apatow sex comedy while at other times it outright revels in pure absurdity. The center narrative stitch however is farce – trading on the buffoonery of our characters to establish much of the film’s important story elements. The biggest problem of this film is the beginning, where everything feels just so forced, and none of the jokes really land. It’s a good 25 minutes of dick jokes and campy, frat humor that I didn’t care for at all, and honestly got me worried about sitting through the whole thing. A horribly, horribly weak start. It’s pretty damn bad up until they actually kill the stripper – at that point, the film takes a drastic turn for the better. I’m not talking about masterpiece level direction, but it actually becomes charming and entertaining to watch. This however becomes a crutch as the film limps away from the halfway point. Once we get a good idea of what’s going on, it becomes obvious that there just aren’t enough levers for this film to pull to keep everything going. And instead of relying on broad characters and an increasing array of improbable circumstances (the bread and butter of any good farce), the film cuts back and forth between, not people but groups that are only tangentially related to the story proper. As a result, the starves itself on its own lack of possibilities.
Director and co-writer, Lucia Aniello (making her first feature film), centers the action on the complicated and relatable relationships among these five women, while showing that they can be just as wild – and funny – as their male counterparts, yet, strangely, the most humorous sequences in the film involve Jess’s fiancé named Peter, who thinks she doesn’t want to marry him anymore so he quickly drives straight from Washington D.C. to Miami in a diaper. This is all done to win Jess back (talk about bad miscommunication!). The best part structurally is the fact that these are in fact grown up women each dealing with their own problems and though clearly stereotyped, it’s the actresses really that bring their own thing to these girls. If it wasn’t for the charming performances by everybody, I don’t think this film would have worked at all. For the most part, the script is pretty weak and with lots of awkward information dumps, and the emotional parts wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the actresses that we got in the end product. Most of the film is spent with the group of women trying to figure out what to do to keep themselves out of very serious trouble. Conceptually, that makes sense, but on screen, the very talented cast had so little chemistry that I was distracted wondering why they were even there together at all. In a comedy as dark as this one – and to be clear, we spend a lot of time with a dead body that is far more nuisance than human being, so it’s pretty fucking dark – these seemed like people savvy enough to find ways to get out of a weekend that most of them seemed to have no interest in attending. Not surprisingly, the film works best when it hits genuine notes on friendship and female camaraderie. It’s not a coincidence that a convincing and earnest dramatic face-off between Jess and Alice about their quietly suffering friendship makes up for this comedy’s most memorable scene. And despite all its problems, this is still a promising entry into the world work female-led ensemble comedies like Bad Moms and How to be Single. I just wished it didn’t have to try so hard to prove “Women can be just as XYZ as men” and instead, showed us a more complex set of women with relatable, real-world issues. For my money, that’s where Bridesmaids, one of the best comedies of this century, excelled. It’s a shame though as the film does have the cast that had potential to be in a great comedy film. Scarlett Johansson as always looks stunning & plays her part well. Kate McKinnon is so weird and awkward but I personally love her oddness in every role she has been in. Jillian Bell is also a funny actress that I am slowly growing on her, as she has been the center of a comedic role. Ilana Glazer, I have not seen her in much but her role was decent playing an activist character. Zoe Kravitz is also decent as well. Paul W. Downs & Colton Haynes are hilarious, while Ty Burrell & Demi Moore are awkwardly cast. On the whole, ‘Rough Night’ is not a terrible film yet thanks to its cheap laughs and gags, it’s also not a very good one.
Directed – Lucia Aniello
Rated – R
Run Time – 101 minutes