If for nothing else, the summer of 2017 should go down as “The Summer Women Ruled”. It’s for good reason too, seeing how Woman Woman set the box office ablaze, while also turning in one of the best possible superhero vehicles. Couple that with the Latest Pixar film (Cars 3) whose second half is wonderfully centered on a strong message of female empowerment. Wanting to make sure all the bases are covered, there’s even an R-Rated raunch-comedy in Rough Night. Though it never quite matches the heights of the other two films, it’s at least rather funny.
A quick prologue at a frat party in 1996 establishes the close bond of the core group of girls, as well as lets the audience know the kind of comedy to expect. We meet up with each lady a decade later to find them, for the most part, decently well adjusted. Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is running for State Senator, while juggling her upcoming wedding to Peter (Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the film).
Alice (Jillian Bell), the defacto best friend, works as grade-school teacher, when she isn’t helping take care of her ailing mother. Blair (Zoe Kravits) is a semi-snooty rich New Yorker, stuck in the middle of a long custody battle. Then there’s Frankie (Ilana Glazer), a fun loving activist with two strikes against her, who was formerly romantically entwined with Blair.Sensing this is her best chance to not lose Jess, Alice meticulously plans a “Bachelorette Blow-Out” in Miami. What she didn’t account for is Jess’s friend from a semester abroad in Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon). Her inclusion sets Alice further on edge, which one can assume doesn’t bode well.
Rather than fully-formed characters, the friends initially come off as stereotypes. Yet each actress is so talented that they create layers to the friendships that may not be there on the page.
After a night of eating, doing coke, drinking, doing coke and dancing, the squad retires back to the beach front property where they’re staying. Not content to end on a sober note, a stripper is ordered and quickly murdered. Sorry, “accidentally killed.”
For a movie that’s supposed to be about a night of debauchery that turns dark, the majority of the film features multiple lapses in judgment. Logic says that it’s smart not to tamper with the crime scene, but the ladies do that almost instantly. The same goes for calling the cops, but since copious amounts of drugs have been ingested, not to mention the potential effect on Jess’s potential political career, they shy away from that decision.
What’s strange is that the b-story ends up being more engaging, if not more weird, than the main narrative. In a fit of clarity, Jess decides to call Peter for help. Unfortunately, their conversation is cut short, with Peter convinced the wedding is called off. The only course, he decides, is to go full “sad astronaut” and drive to his “ex”-fiancee to win her back. His journey could be its own standalone feature, but here it keeps things fresh and punchy, just as they should be flying off the tracks.What hurts Rough Night the most is the pervading feeling of “been there, done that.” This isn’t to outright say the movie is a copy, but it comes off as a warmed over rehash. Imagine stuffing a blender with equal parts the nihilism of Very Bad Things, the raunchiness and friendship of Bridesmaids and Bachelorette, plus a dash of pathos from World’s End and you’d get the picture.
As expected (in this short period of time) Kate McKinnon cements herself as a comedic whirling dervish. You know she’s going to bring the laughs and everyone else best clear a path, lest they want to be a casualty or hostage. She’s flanked amiably throughout by Jillian Bell, wrestling away her fair share of laughs. Don’t be surprised if these two should co-headline another film in the future.Just as it lands another joke, Rough Night pitters around trying to decide how to connect as a whole. It gives each scene a shaggy vignette atmosphere, in place of a naturally evolving story. Falling back on old stand-bys is a crutch that hampers more than it helps.
Part of that may come from director/co-writer Lucia Aniello, who has a background in television, most notably Broad City, which co-stars Ilana Glazer. The scenes are more often than not ridiculously funny, but feel lighter than the whole would have you expect. This is a movie that is being marketed mostly by its supposedly “darker tone.”
What drama there is (outside a slowly decaying corpse) feels inorganic. The majority of it is based on years of slowly pent up annoyance or animosity between the friends. Someday a raunchy “best friends go on a trip” film will be solved through civil discourse, instead of flailing and hysterics.
Rough Night is funny, but that’s about just it. The third acts gets preposterous, only so that things can be tied up in way too clean a fashion. That’s kind of to be expected from a summer comedy. It makes you laugh a few times without challenging your brain at all. Much like a bachelorette party with lots of coke and questionable decisions, you may struggle to remember all of it in the future.