After the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids (2011) made $288 million at the box-office, it’s a surprise that more female ensemble comedies haven’t emerged to capitalise on its success. With the exception of Bad Moms (2016) and A Bad Moms Christmas (2017), progress remains frustratingly slow, and Rough Night isn’t going to leave a mark on the glass ceilings. It’s baffling that writers Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello (who also directs) managed to put together a cast this wonderful, just to craft a crude distaff take on The Hangover (2009) meets Weekend at Bernie’s (1989).
We meet Jess (Scarlett Johansson) engaged to be married to her fiancé Peter (co-writer Paul W. Downs), taking time away from her political campaigning to host a bachelorette party in Miami with her old college friends: overbearing ex-roommate Alice (Jillian Bell); social justice warrior Frankie (Ilana Glazer), wealthy Blair (Zoë Kravitz), and her Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon). However, their hedonistic weekend is ruined when one of them accidentally kills a stripper…
This concept is dark and very distasteful, but how it’s handled is almost as uncomfortable to watch as the women try multiple ways to dispose of the incriminating body. Somewhere deep inside Rough Night there’s a good black comedy, but for something about such a bleak subject the story here is oddly sugar-coated. It tries much too hard to stay within the boundaries of good taste, for a mainstream comedy, when it really should have pushed its darker instincts to the limit.
The shining moments are the scenes between this dynamic of women, as this individually talented cast play off each other very well. Unfortunately, Johansson’s never given a chance to let her skill with comedy shine, as she plays a boring and uninteresting lead character, and the script totally wastes Ghostbusters’s likeable Kate McKinnon. However, the subtle interplay of former lesbian couple Blair and Frankie is remarkable for how unremarkable it’s played by those actresses. Unlike other mainstream movies that coyly evade same-sex relationships, or make light of it, there’s a normalcy to Frankie and Blair that’s very refreshing. But, elsewhere, the cliched swingers next door (Demi Moore, Ty Burrell) are another uncomfortable and creepy subplot that does both actors no favours.
The men in Rough Night rightfully play second fiddle to the main characters, as women themselves tend to in this type of buddy comedy. Remember Heather Graham the prostitute in The Hangover? The bachelor party is a dull affair where the guys taste wine and sample expensive cheeses, with the script having fun making subversive gags based on gender-flipping roles and behaviour.
Rough Night crams in lots of jokes before reaching an emotional crescendo where its tone changes rather too quickly. The final act feels like it belongs in a run-of-the-mill rom-com, not a raunchy comedy involving a dead corpse. Warmer scenes where the characters learn their potential are amongst the more pleasing moments, but they’re also the least tonally cohesive and believable. Ultimately, the film’s humour is predictable and the premise is well-trodden turf that’s been done better elsewhere, and what laugh-out-loud moments that do exist are few and far between…
Cast & Crew
director: Lucia Aniello.
writers: Lucia Aniello & Paul W. Downs.
starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz & Paul W. Downs.