Rough Night Review: Somewhere Between a Rager and a Buzzkill

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Lucia Aniello’s star-studded bachelorette comedy is like buying a well drink at the bar. It gets the job done, but there’s nothing particularly exciting about it.

If you’ve ever tried to throw a party or plan a group night out, you know there are several outcomes that can happen. Some nights are the ones that will go down in the history books, destined to be brought up again and again at brunch and repeated to your children when they’re old enough. Other nights end in complete disaster, making you wish you had just stayed home instead. Every once in a while, though, you have a night that is perfectly average. Nothing too wild happens, but nothing horrible happens either. You hang with your friends, have some solid laughs, and then head your separate ways. You had decent time, but you’ll likely forget about it by next week.

This is the best way to describe Rough Night, the latest in the raunchy girls-night-out comedy subgenre that’s aiming to recapture the runaway success of 2011’s Bridesmaids. Directed by Broad City scribe Lucia Aniello, who also co-wrote the film with Paul W. Downs (who also pulls double duty as a writer and a cast member), the film is the perfect embodiment of lukewarm. The cast is a venerable roster of A-listers who are all game to get down and dirty. When the jokes land, they really land. Unfortunately, this only happens about 50% of the time.

The plot is essentially Bridesmaids meets Leslye Headland’s supremely underrated Bachelorette meets Weekend at Bernie’s. Stressed out senate candidate Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is getting married, and reuniting with her best friends from college for a bachelorette weekend in Miami. The whole trip has been organized by her freshman year roommate Alice (Jillian Bell), a school teacher who hasn’t quite grown out of her campus coed mentality. Tagging along are her two other friends Frankie (Ilana Glazer), a sexually fluid professional activist, and high-powered real estate maven Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who used to date Frankie in college. Shortly after they land, they meet up with Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess’ friend from her semester abroad in Australia.

The typical bachelorette shenanigans ensue, which are par for the course, but still fun to watch. Then, things take a dark turn when Alice jumps on the stripper they hired and he falls over, knocking his head on the marble fireplace and dying instantly. Suddenly, the party is over, and everyone scrambles to decide what to do with the body.

The basic formula for a film like this is that the ladies will eventually wrangle their way out of this mess, usually thanks to some perfect timing and a twist of fate. That’s all well and good, but what’s disappointing is that the execution is often uninspired. Movies like this can only really make an impact when they can subvert or revitalize the conventions of their genre. Here, it feels like Rough Night is playing it safe far too often. For every edgy, good joke in the movie, there’s a poor one, like having the film’s one Australian character make a crack about Vegemite (The Olson Twins beat you to it, you guys…). It makes the ride to the finish line a rather bumpy one, which is frustrating. Aniello and Downs have written some of Broad City‘s most memorable and hilarious episodes. Their jump to the big screen isn’t bad, per se, but it could have been so much better.

Yet, there is still a good portion of the movie that’s entertaining. Downs, who plays Jess’ fiancé in the film, has a wonderfully goofy subplot involving his uber-tame bachelor party and his race to find Jess, which somehow includes wearing an adult diaper and setting up two truckers with each other. It’s absurd and absolutely amazing. Demi Moore and Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell show up as a couple of swingers next door, and their oversexed behavior is never not funny. And, as with Bridesmaids, the film adds in an exploration of female friendship that finds some genuine pathos by its end.

Oh, and then there’s the main cast of ladies, who are always good company. Johansson is an entirely watchable straight man, and even gets the chance to poke fun at her action star status later on in the film. Bell is a constant livewire act. Glazer is essentially playing a more militant version of her Ilana character on Broad City, but it works nonetheless. Kravitz proves herself adept at the big screen comedy game, especially in her scenes with Glazer. The real scene-stealer, however, is McKinnon, which shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who’s seen her on Saturday Night Live. Her Australian accent is purposefully overdone, and her kooky, Kumbaya personality is a welcome delight, especially when things really start to go south.

Rough Night never really lives up to its title. Yes, the characters do have a particularly worsening evening, but the film itself is a little too sleek to really embrace its wild side. It’s exciting when the jokes hit their stride, but the high is fleeting. As far as blockbuster comedies go, you could certainly do worse. Still, you’ll probably leave the theater having had a good laugh, only to forget about this one by next week. Grade: B-

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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