10 years after their senior year of college, Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is running for Senator. She is also getting married to an awkwardly twee guy named Peter (Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the film). To celebrate, her college friends bring her to Florida for a crazy bachelorette party weekend full of partying, drinking, and perhaps some illicit drugs.
Oh, and did I mention the dead stripper?
The first half hour of Rough Night plays like a female version of the Hangover films. Then, the break into the second act comes with its twist—the aforementioned dead stripper, of course—and the film becomes something more thought out and narratively fulfilling than the majority of crass comedies that make their way through theaters.
Sure, for every worthwhile punchline or bit of situational comedy that works there is one or two that blatantly fail. But the film survives on energetic performances and a story with enough satisfying twists that put band-aids on these flat jokes. Band-aids that mostly cover the blemishes.
The film follows an ensemble of friends who all fall squarely into the roles required of them to make the dynamic of the group interesting enough to last a feature length runtime.
Jess is the protagonist, and thus has the least amount of individual personality. Alice (Jillian Bell) is Jess’s best friend. At least, she was in college. Then Pippa (Kate McKinnon) showed up afterwards to fill that role.
Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) fill out the crew in the ancillary positions, in which they share a history among themselves but only affect the larger group friendship on a minor level.
There is nothing drastically original about this cast of characters. If you look close enough, you will inevitably find characters that you have seen before.
However, the performances by and large keep the characters from feeling tired. Bell, in particular, brings depth to a character that is normally archetypal and shoved into obvious corners.
McKinnon provides some moments of strong comedy, but it is hard to shake the feeling that she is merely playing that Kate McKinnon character we’ve seen before (most recently in Ghostbusters) just with an Australian accent. At least in the context of this film her zaniness fits within the group in a workable way.
Johansson is the only actress that doesn’t feel comfortable within the group. She is not given many moments to shine as it is, but when she floats to the surface of scenes she comes off awkward in a way that is detrimental to the comedy of the scene.
What is most surprising is the male-group counterpart to the female ensemble. They serve less of a function, but the anti-masculine stereotyping of their characters and their blind optimism is a joy to witness.
Two of them also provide one of the funniest scenes in the film (and easily the funniest use of a Snoop Dogg-Dr. Dre collab in film).
The comedy in this film is by no means perfect. In fact, often times it is sloppy or simply falls flat. The film as a whole is fairly sloppy, to be honest. It cherry-picks tropes and plot points from other crass comedies: shades of The Hangover, Bridesmaids, and even Weekend at Bernie’s appear. It falters often with over-the-top gags that lessen whatever semblance of reality this film lives in.
But the film takes its chances. When these chances work, they work. When they don’t, at least the screenwriters go all out. With the film hitting its dark comedy tone with gusto, there is enough to engage with here to make for a good time. Because, if you think about it, this could have just been another lazy raunchy comedy, banking on a counter-programming audience to earn it a few bucks.
Rough Night: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)