Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Paul W. Downes
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In a word, Rough Night is patchy, which is disappointing considering its pedigree.
Taking a break from her election campaign, rising Hilary-alike politician Jess (Scarlett Johansson) heads to Miami for a debauched bachelorette weekend with her four best friends: the clingy Alice (Jillian Bell), activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), recently separated high flyer Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Australian loose unit Pippa (Kate McKinnon). A night of booze and cocaine takes a turn for the sinister, however, when Alice accidentally kills a male stripper they hired for Jess, and the five must decide what to do with the body.
Rough Night has been described by many commentators as a kind of distaff The Hangover, and it’s hard to argue with that. Like Todd Phillips’ bro-comedy, it’s occasionally hilarious, frequently clumsy and comes packaged with a message of fraternity (sorority, really, in this case) that feels rather forced given the tenor of the story’s events. It’s not laugh-a-minute, more like laugh-a-scene.
Some of those laughs are pretty decent, though, with the lion’s share going to McKinnon’s can-do lunatic Aussie, complete with knowingly terrible accent, and Glazer’s right-on, left-wing lesbian (she and Blair were a couple back in college). Johansson and Kravitz share straight-woman duties, while Bell, normally a stunning comic performer, picks up the scraps, hampered by a needlessly annoying character who exists largely to provide some dramatic tension (her neediness has alienated nominal bestie Jess, who is somewhat embarrassed by her).
In a word, Rough Night is patchy, which is disappointing considering its pedigree. Director and co-writer Lucia Aniello is a veteran of Glazer’s sitcom, Broad City, along with her writing partner Paul W. Downes, but the film is never as provocative or transgressive as that series, going for gross-out gags and shock value rather than anything really interesting – there’s a whole thematic vein about disposable sex workers left unmined, for example, and there’s nothing the film says about friendships that hasn’t been said before, and more eloquently. Heck, it’s not even as cynical as you might expect a plot predicated on an inconvenient corpse to be; Rough Night‘s centre is rather squishy, and the morality of all that transpires is largely not interrogated, which seems to be a terrible waste of potential.
There are highlights, though. McKinnon is the comedy MVP, reliably dropping bizarre line deliveries and generally going the extra mile to milk every possible drop of comedy from her material, and a subplot involving Jess’ urbane fiance (Downes) trying to drive from New York to Miami in one night when he becomes convinced she is cheating on him really delivers – it helps that he’s supported by the likes of Bo Burnham and Eric Andre as his wine-sipping bros, who encourage him to embark on his epic, if misguided quest.
Perhaps that section works because it’s almost a throwaway. The main plot often feels like it’s trying too hard, packing the screen with noise and incident to little real effect. It’s not the fault of the onscreen talent – everyone involved here is at minimum a solid performer, and McKinnon, Bell and Glazer are excellent comics – but perhaps just the tension between the comedy stylings Aniello and Downes have previously expressed conflicting with the rather more quotidian demands of a mainstream studio popcorn chuckler. It’s not a total dud, but it definitely feels like a missed opportunity.