Rough Night, co-written and directed by Lucia Aniello of Broad City, toes that line with a very notable dark element thrown into the mix.
Ten years after graduating college, four friends reunite for Jess’ (Scarlett Johansson) bachelorette party: Alice (Jillian Bell) the overzealous, insecure planner, social activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and her former girlfriend Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s going through a rough separation. They’re also joined by Jess’ friend from her semester abroad in Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon). Things take a turn for the worse however when they accidentally kill a stripper, and shenanigans ensue as they try to dispose of the body and not risk arrest for manslaughter.
With a premise like that, this film invites immediate comparison to movies like Weekend at Bernie’s and Very Bad Things. However Rough Night takes its cues from a number of other comedies as well. In fact a lot of the circumstances throughout the night feel familiar, and it’s increasingly predictable where the plot’s going to go. Nothing they do with the body or cover-up is particularly original. There are a couple diversions and shenanigans that are irrelevant, unfunny padding (this film is way too long). And if that isn’t bad enough, there’s a stupid misunderstanding subplot that emerges concerning Jess’ fiancé (Paul W. Downs) that apart from being incredibly unnecessary, just gets more dumb, weirder and worse the further along it goes. Not to mention the new variables added to the plot meant to make it more outlandish are all clichés in their own right.
There are a couple character arcs, but nothing you can get invested in. The central personal conflict is Alice’s, who’s jealous of Jess’ “best friend” Pippa -literally the exact character basis of Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. The key difference there being that in Bridesmaids, Wiig was likeable. While intentional, Jillian Bell’s performance is way too obnoxious, and she’s a constant annoyance whenever she’s on screen. She comes off very petty and self-centred; and the biggest problem is eventually the audience is supposed to find her relatable -which is actually a little offensive, but the performance never conveys that. Scarlett Johansson’s not bad, but in a few scenes seems to be phoning it in. She’s also unfortunately the stooge of the group, not given even an attempt at a comedic identity, and as by far the big movie star in a cast of comedians, she’s the noticeable odd one out. Kate McKinnon though, having been one of the better parts of Ghostbusters, is pretty good here despite an over-the-top accent. And Ilana Glazer and Zoë Kravitz are fine. But apart from Glazer and Kravitz, the group doesn’t really have that much chemistry. Ty Burrell and a really strangely cast Demi Moore appear as the groups’ free-spirited neighbours. And the movie features a criminally underused Hasan Minaj.
All this might have been salvageable if Rough Night was at least funny. But while McKinnon and Glazer definitely have funny moments and there’s a legitimately good joke every twenty minutes, there really aren’t that many laughs. I think it’s again because a lot of this is familiar territory. Even the raunchy humour supposedly to give the film its more distinct edge, isn’t all that risqué or new. Which is a major disappointment considering this is a movie where the inciting incident is someone’s death. It features only the very types of sexual and shock humour that we’ve gotten used to from comedies like this by now, and it never really pushes the envelope in an intelligent way. Sure it affects some minor commentary on the fact that Jess is snorting cocaine in the middle of a run for the Senate, and that a lawyer’s advice is essentially to cover up a crime scene, but it never commits to a subject of satire (except potentially Frankie being a stereotypical left-wing ideologue). So the humour amounts to a series of jokes that don’t have any impact, and no strong intent, story, or characters to back them up.
There are worse comedies out there than Rough Night, but It is sad when you can say an episode of Frasier did the same story better than a feature film. In fact, I’m sure a number of sitcoms have already touched on the formula of the accidental murder, some with the same concealment methods gone awry. If you want to see a good comedy with a raunch factor, featuring funny women with some of these same character types, only done well, just go watch Bridesmaids.