Laughs are Few in ‘Rough Night’ (FILM REVIEW)

In what comes in at second as this year’s most disjointed film to date, Rough Night squarely hits every cliché, delivers on a few solid jokes, but offers next to nothing in terms of originality. The stellar cast of actors paired with the writers of the hit series Broad City should have been an easy summer comedy, but instead we’re given an innately sexist flip on the Bachelor vs. Bachelorette party scene. Dudes can have an easy night in, and ladies can party; it shouldn’t be some groundbreaking concept.

After spending college together, a group of four friends and an additional outside player head down to Miami for a bachelorette weekend to end all other bachelorette weekends. There’s drinking, drugs, tomfoolery, dance routines, strippers, swingers, and of course, a random death. The accidental killing of a craigslist stripper leads to shenanigans, culminating in the main issue the group faces: Do they turn themselves in and run the risk of going to prison, or do they simply get rid of the body and move on with their lives?

The writing itself works as individual jokes. The actors maintain a steady beat through their time onscreen; Scarlett Johansson plays the uptight Jess, running for senate, bachelorette who plays the straight woman to Jillian Bell’s party crazed, attention seeking Alice. Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer act as the former couple Blair and Frankie who took separate paths upon breaking up, culminating in an awkward reunion and unspoken feelings. And Kate McKinnon stands in as the quirky friend from Australia who Jess met while studying abroad, acting as the outsider and villain as far as Alice is concerned.

The pace of the movie is slow and dull. We get the lead up to the trip while getting a look into the lives of the ladies who will be dominating the screen. Jess’ fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs, Broad City) is a supportive partner, excited for her to embark on the trip with her friends. Alice is a school teacher. Frankie is an activist. And Blair is a high end real-estate broker who is currently in the throes of a custody battle. Their differences are palpable, though the movie does do a solid job not dwelling too long on them. Regardless of what they do, they’re still friends who have known one another for ages.

Armed with sashes and stomachs lined with a hearty dinner, the crew embarks on a party night throughout Miami. Taking shots, getting plastered, and even reliving an old routine they used to do in college. But even through all the excitement, the party scenes are trite, staying relatively safe and user friendly.

Meanwhile, Paul’s bachelor party is raging hard as the dudes do a wine tasting in a cabin, safely tucked away from the debauchery Jess and her friends are taking part in. Among the friend group are Eric Andre, Bo Burnam, and Hasan Minhaj, who play almost frightened versions of themselves. The joke would play well were in not for the overused “the ladies are crazier than the dudes, y’all” way of thinking.

Things turn dark after the Craigslist stripper arrives, and an overzealous Alice accidentally causes him to bump his head, killing him surprisingly quickly. The remainder of the film sees the cast attempting to remedy their actions, one blunderous moment at a time. The writers made the mistake of placing the rest of the movie in a single setting, adding to the disjointed attempts at funny moments. We get throwbacks to Weekend at Bernie’s and The Hangover, though because of the lack of self-awareness none of it plays well.

Realistically if we were to flip the script with a male cast accidentally killing a female stripper, it would be hard to see it is as funny. The recipe for hilarious disaster that worked in 80’s and early 90’s comedies no longer plays to audiences who value personal autonomy. Rape jokes and sexist humor have no business in the world of entertainment, particularly when there’s a lack of satire without the comedic context. We wouldn’t tolerate 16 Candles’ Jake Ryan sending off his drunk girlfriend to be fondled by Farmer Ted in 2017, so why would we accept casual murder coupled with an unimaginative gender flipped script?

While the movie as a whole doesn’t work, it’s still exhilarating to see such a talented group of women working together. As gender-normative roles continue to fade, these types of roles will work as learning experiences, adding to the tools needed to put women in comedy in an equal spotlight.

Rough Night is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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