Director: Lucia Aniello
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Kate McKinnon, Paul W. Downs, Ryan Cooper, Ty Burrell, Demi Moore, Enrique Murciano, Dean Winters, Colton Haynes, Patrick Carlyle, Eric Andre, Bo Burnham, Hasan Minhaj, Karan Soni
MPAA Rating: (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images)
Running Time: 1:41
Release Date: 6/16/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 16, 2017
Perhaps there are too many significant characters in Rough Night, or there's too much business about what to do the dead body of a stripper/sex worker, who had the misfortune of showing up to a bachelorette party where the most eager of the participants has had a steady intake of cocaine. The movie wants to be about the ways that old friendships slowly crumble over time, and it also wants to have a lot of scenes in which those characters try to hide a dead body, struggle to dispose of it, and fail at covering their tracks. The first goal needs focus and sincerity. The second doesn't require either of those qualities. In fact, sincerity would probably ruin the jokes.
The plot involving the hiding/disposal of the corpse benefits from having an assortment of characters, whose reactions range from genuine shock and appalment of what has happened to complete apathy about what, legally, could amount to involuntary manslaughter (An uncle of one of the friends helpfully explains the legal stakes). This gives the humor a bit of range, although once they realize the heap of trouble they could be in, all of them decide that getting rid of the body is for best. Yes, it's a terrible thing that they have to do, but also yes, it's the only solution that won't ruin their lives.
The underlying story about friendship, though, doesn't benefit from the presence of all these characters. Two of them are pretty much extraneous, since they seem to have made lives for themselves—no matter what difficulties may exist in those lives—that don't revolve around what their friends think of them. Another character ignites a spark of jealousy in one of the other characters, and at that point, the character who caused that spark mostly exists for the broad end of the comedy.
Basically, the movie has five main characters, and only two of them really matter in its examination of friendship on the brink. The math doesn't work out in this equation.
Those two characters are Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and Alice (Jillian Bell), who were roommates freshman year of college and have remained friends ever since. Jess is a politician, running for a seat in the state legislature, and she's about to marry Peter (Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the screenplay), a nice guy whose decent qualities are incrementally heightened until they become absurd. Alice is a teacher who doesn't have much of a life outside of her job and her friendship with Jess.
Alice has planned the bachelorette party in Miami, complete with clubs, bars, plenty of penis-themed trinkets, and a stay at the beach house of one of Jess' donors. Also celebrating are Blair (Zoë Kravitz), a successful businesswoman going through a messy separation, and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), a political activist who might not really believe what she preaches (The two were a couple at one point, and the tension at least gives them something else to do when the corpse isn't involved). The affably wacky Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess' friend from a semester studying abroad in Australia, is the source of jealousy for Alice.
Obviously, the women hire a stripper for Jess, who turns out to be sex worker whom Frankie found online. They figure this out after Alice leaps into his lap, knocking his head on the fireplace and leaving him dead.
Their plan is to call the police, until a lawyer tells them that they could get in serious trouble, since they've been moving the body around to hide it from any nosy parties, especially their swinger neighbors (played by Ty Burrell and Demi Moore). The screenplay by Lucia Aniello (who also directed) and Downs makes a point of raising real-life incidents in which women have encountered double standards in the law. Indeed, the entire movie is a challenge to the notion that comedies about partying, drugs, sex, and corpse-removal belong exclusively to the realm of men. In that department, it's hit-and-miss, much like the comedy.
The humor is dark, naturally, but the movie avoids the pitfall of bringing the material down to the level of misanthropy. It likes these characters, even the ones whom the movie is mocking (Peter's cross-country journey—while wearing adult diapers—to find out what has happened to his fiancée, for example, is equally awkward and endearing). There's clearly something amiss with the stripper from his initial appearance, and by the end, it's obvious that he's not an innocent victim in all of this.
Is that playing it safe? Well, it is to a degree, since the women are only accidentally and barely justified in their actions, but consider the alternative, in which we'd have to confront the possibility that there's nothing redeemable about these characters' actions. It's not quite a happy medium, but it's definitely not a hateful one.
There is some funny stuff here, especially in the climax, when the movie allows us to feel more comfortable about laughing at the morally gray material. What remains uncertain, though, is whether Rough Night has its heart in the dark comedy or the sympathetic look at friendship. In theory, the movie could have both ways, but that's not the case here.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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