“This is going to be the biggest weekend of our lives.”
The conceit is simple: remove the dark parody of 1998’s macabre Very Bad Things but maintain a similar plot, then from there play off the rise of raunchy female led comedies over the past few years. I found this one to work in a lot of the same ways I thought Bad Moms sporadically clicked. It’s not enough for a story to merely flip genders and grant women the same access to foul-mouthed debauchery; man or woman, the movie itself needs to be about more than just sex and drugs. Bad Moms surprised me by maintaining its maternal side during the hijinks, and while Rough Night escalates the stakes tenfold by comparison, the movie still captures femininity in a genre bullied by the boys. There’s not much reinvention here, but I let out the very rare loud laugh multiple times in the theater. By that metric, this generic comedy serves its purpose.
The wide-ranging bunch leading Rough Night fit the expected billing. Workaholic Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is in the midst of wedding planning and running for Senate. Self-proclaimed best friend and schoolteacher Alice (Jillian Bell) has the weekend itinerary penciled in to the half hour, taking the load off Jess while still applying pressure to let loose. Also meeting them in Miami for girl’s weekend are two of their closest friends from college: Blair’s (Zoe Kravitz) a prim socialite and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) is an unemployed protester. Throw in Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon) from her junior year studying abroad and you have what’s sure to be a raucous 5 person bachelorette party. The planned early night quickly escalates into one of booze, dancing, bumps and bumps of coke, and the accidental murder of a stripper. And you thought a hangover was bad.
Rough Night has a handful of peculiar tonal inconsistencies that simultaneously attempt to deescalate the crime with humor (like eating pizza after killing a man to relieve stress) while also ramping up the severity of their actions (Blair’s lawyer Uncle says to leave the body be, but they already moved him into a sex swing, and tampering could mean hard time). However, these important scenes help the movie maintain its livelihood, as well as separate it from male-centric sexist fare. Jess fears losing her political credibility. Alice will disappoint students. Blair’s custody battle will be tarnished. Frankie is already on strike two with the law. And Pippa, well, she’s just exasperated and severely jet-lagged. Movies like this one starring male leads tend to ditch responsibility for the lives they lead outside of bro-time (like Bradley Cooper’s The Hangover character leaving the schoolyard saying, “It’s the weekend. I don’t know you. You do not exist.”) As for these women, they’re held to a different standard, and Rough Night realizes this dichotomy as much as it attacks it head on.
There’s a flurry of laughs scattered throughout all of the strange and reliable foolery. One particular highlight at the start, popping a celebratory bottle of champagne in the airport only to have the entire terminal hit the ground in fear, had me rolling. Some of the funnier pieces come from the men’s perspective though, specifically because director Lucia Aniello writes and shoots them in the way that women are often portrayed in film. Their night out is a wine tasting, with the real crazy flourish arriving in the form of a nice chilled wine. Now that’s wild! Rough Night is a convenient film, one where I was able to predict its every move two steps ahead of itself, but it’s also light and undeniably funny. The cherry on top of this melting mess? Kate McKinnon as an Aussie. I have not enjoyed her in a film until now because she’s best when totally unrestrained and free to roam, and Rough Night releases the leash. Her outlandish and extreme performance steals every second she’s given on-screen. She smiles and laughs and looks befuddled with such convincing ease. That’s how the film made me feel.
“We’ve gotta’ do this, for womankind.”
Rating: 3 out of 5