Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Rough Night is a raunchy “girl’s night” comedy that feels like a close relative to the Hangover films. The setup is similar: a group of friends go away together for a bachelorette party. Everything is fine at first, then things take a dark turn and they have to figure out how to get themselves out of trouble. In this case, their problem is a dead stripper instead of a night they can’t remember. But it still leads to a lot of R-rated humor and female bonding.
Five ladies (Scarlett Johansson as bride-to-be Jess, Jillian Bell (from Workaholics) as her self-professed best friend Alice, Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer (playing a slight variation on her Broad City character) as former lovers Blair and Frankie, and SNL’s Kate McKinnon as wacky Australian Pippa) meet up for the first time in years for a wild bachelorette party weekend in Miami. After some drugs and dancing, they get a visit from a male stripper. One thing leads to another and they need to figure out how they can get away with murder after inadvertently killing him.
It’s a farcical situation, but the screenwriters (director Lucia Aniello (a writer and director on Broad City) and Paul W. Downs (who writes for Broad City and has a recurring role on the show as Trey) don’t take the scenario as far as they could have. The result is a lot of conversation about what to do about the body (some of it very funny) and not a lot of action. It feels like they could have gotten more mileage out of the premise if they had gone to darker places. The ending isn’t particularly strong either as the final act is weighed down by too much plot and too much sentiment to be funny.
Unnecessary sentiment is a serious issue in modern adult comedies. After an hour-and-a-half or so of insults and sex and/or bodily function jokes, many of these films end with the characters (usually estranged friends or relative strangers becoming friends) declaring their love for each other. In many cases (such as Wedding Crashers or last month's Amy Schumer starring Snatched) it destroys any momentum the film has built up and drains the climax of much of its humor.
It’s not as egregious in Rough Night, but the late in the film argument and subsequent reconciliation feels arbitrary rather than required by the plot. It slows the film down just when it should be speeding toward its conclusion. A note to filmmakers: if you’re making a hard-R comedy, it is not a requirement to end it with emotion. Ending it with sweetness does not make up for the previous ninety minutes of potentially offensive material, so don’t even bother. But I digress.
The bridal party consists of five funny women so the movie holds together better than it probably should. There is also a funny subplot featuring co-writer Downs as Jess’ concerned fiancée Peter. He is having his bachelor party back at home and his banter with his friends provides a good contrast to Jess’ gang. The supporting cast isn’t all that memorable. Thankfully, the leading ensemble is well cast and has good chemistry together. That is enough to keep the film reasonably entertaining.
The movie was not as funny as the trailers made me hope it would be, but I did laugh out loud several times. Unfortunately, the plot isn’t used to its fullest comedic extent and the payoff is disappointingly clichéd. However, the cast is funny enough to carry things along at a decent pace. I would love to see Johansson, Bell, Kravitz, Glazer and McKinnon team up again; perhaps this time they could really let loose.
3¼ out of 5
Scarlett Johansson as Jess
Jillian Bell as Alice
Zoë Kravitz as Blair
Ilana Glazer as Frankie
Kate McKinnon as Pippa
Paul W. Downs as Peter
Ty Burrell as Pietro
Demi Moore as Lea
Directed by Lucia Aniello
Written by Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs