We must start with Bridesmaids. All female buddy comedies since 2011 lead back to Bridesmaids.
There’s a two-second slow-mo shot in which the ladies enter the jet bridge of their flight to Las Vegas. They look like bosses, all ready to do serious damage in Sin City for bride-to-be Lillian’s bachelorette weekend. They never get there. Maid of honor Annie has an anxiety meltdown on the plane, and the pilot makes an emergency landing. We never see a party, and we never miss it: That movie is so smart and winning, it doesn’t need an obvious set piece.
Rough Night depicts exactly what would have happened in Vegas.
The debauchery is all here. The drugs. The booze. The kinky sex. The mayhem. The lies. The male stripper. Is some of it funny? Absolutely. It’s scientifically impossible to put professional comics Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell and Ilana Glazer together on a screen and not giggle at their antics. Still, by the 28th penis joke, audiences might want to exit the party early. The sober audiences, anyway.
Scarlett Johansson — no slouch herself in the comedy department thanks to her membership in Saturday Night Live’s Five-Timers Club — is Jess, the bride-to-be. An uptight candidate for state senate, she’s losing in the polls because voters don’t want to have a drink with her. (Sound familiar?) She takes a break from campaigning for her bach weekend in Miami. And what’s a party without besties from college? Enter an eternal, verging-on-pathetic party gal (Bell); a rich divorcee (Zoe Kravitz); a granola-y protester (Glazer); and an Aussie (McKinnon) from Jess’ year abroad. The actresses do the most with the suffocating one-dimensional roles they’ve been given. Glazer’s character lives in a tree house, for cryin’ out loud!
BTW… In no world would be these girls still be friends IRL. Maybe a sweet happy birthday message on a Facebook wall with a smiley-face emoji, tops. The lack of chemistry is evident. I’m not convinced Johansson and Kravitz have ever had a 1:1 conversation off-camera.
A bit of cocaine and club-hopping is just the warmup act to the wild main event. During the Magic Mike portion of the evening, the male stripper is accidentally killed mid-performance at the girls’ glass-enclosed rental mansion. There will be blood. In their drug-fueled state, the girls make a series of mistakes that range in amusement from mild (buying a “burn phone”) to hearty (treating the corpse like Weekend at Bernie’s). The plot merrily rolls along, with every “surprise” development stemming from a shoe-horned earlier reference. When a girl mentions three times that she’s into “self-waxing” — as opposed to, you know, just waxing — it’s only a matter of time before a strip comes in handy. Ditto for a remote control that’s sooooo difficult to work. A polish on that rag-tag script could have helped.
There’s a bigger issue at play. In my MaraMovies Wonder Woman review, I argued that some people tend to overpraise a you-go-girl film because of the gender reversal factor alone. But just because a female actress takes on a role usually reserved for a male — whether it’s a superhero or a Ghostbuster — doesn’t automatically make it great. The movie must deliver. In the case of Rough Night, ScarJo & Co. get down and dirty just like Seth Rogen and his band of bros. Flawed heroines twerking in a club with wild abandon ain’t enough. A dose of original, out-of-nowhere zaniness and a dash of genuine heart is required as well. In fact, the real scene-stealer is. . . . Jess’ hapless fiance (Paul W. Downs, who also cowrote the screenplay). He drives like a madman from South Carolina to Miami wearing an adult diaper like the infamous “sad astronaut.” Depends > dependably lazy cocaine-on-the-table gags.
Rough Night is tailor-made for a breezy night. And maybe that’s all audiences want after a long week. Yay, dumb fun! No brain cells required! May I suggest that you and your girlfriends hang out with a bottle of wine and instead stream a certain Kristen Wiig comedy? I’m looking out for you!! That’s what friends are for.
(Rough Night opens in theaters Friday, June 16.)
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Also published on Medium.