Rough Night (2017)
101 min., rated R.
Rarely do very good things happen at bachelor or bachelorette parties in the movies, and so it goes with the female-centric “Rough Night,” a ribald, if admittedly uneven, farce that flips the script on 1998’s lung-black comedy “Very Bad Things” with a dash of “Weekend at Bernie’s.” It doesn’t go as far as Peter Berg’s film—and that’s a relief—but women do have the same rights as men to get raunchy and R-rated, kill a stripper, and have fun doing it. TV's “Broad City” writer-director Lucia Aniello, making her directorial feature debut, and co-writer Paul W. Downs (Aniello’s real-life boyfriend who also co-stars and has written for “Broad City”) approach their film as an up-all-night romp with several big laughs and a consistently crowd-pleasing vibe. A second pass at the script definitely wouldn’t have hurt to tighten things up, but there are more than enough one-liners and visual gags that hit, and the eclectic cast has such an up-for-anything energy that carries the proceedings along for the night.
Ten years after college, bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is running for state senate and getting married to fiancée Peter (Paul W. Downs). Freshman year roommate Alice (Jillian Bell) has planned Jess’ bachelorette party for the weekend in Miami, but she seems to need a break from her job as a schoolteacher even more than Jess does, with plenty of penis-themed party favors to go around. The two reunite with activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and posh Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who’s now separated from her husband and in the middle of a custody battle for her son. Also invited is Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess’ Australian friend from her semester abroad. The festivities begin at dinner where Frankie buys some coke from a busboy for the group, then continue to a club where the college foursome down shots and then perform a college-days dance routine to Khia's naughty "My Neck, My Back." Back at the glass beach house Jess has rented, the girls order her a stripper on Craigslist (Ryan Cooper), and then to match their buzz, he is accidentally killed, too. It may have been an accident, but with their high minds still racing, they move the body before they think to call the police. Will they turn themselves in, or can they make the body disappear?
Not unlike the admirably twisted but increasingly shrill and ugly “Very Bad Things,” five friends have to dispose of a dead stripper’s body after a coked-up night of debauchery. Fortunately, in “Rough Night,” the execution of a similar premise maintains a raucous, more farcical tone that doesn’t kill the laughs, despite the involvement of a corpse. The plot certainly grows very contrived by the end, and some of the situational comedy could have escalated even more and doubled down on the wildly uncomfortable factor. And yet, director Lucia Aniello does delight in taking a few outrageously weird and kinky directions — for one, Blair uses herself as an object for a swinging couple (Demi Moore, Ty Burrell) to snatch some evidence that could incriminate her and her girlfriends. Individually, there isn’t much to these characters, all of them types, but the actors operate with such comfortable chemistry as if they have been friends for years rather than just meeting a month before the cameras rolled. Luckily, these ladies breathe enough life into their slim roles where they can.
In the straight woman role of Jess, Scarlett Johansson gets the rare opportunity to cut loose but still makes a fine foil for the more live-wire performers. A standout supporting player in “22 Jump Street,” “The Night Before,” “Office Christmas Party,” and “Fist Fight” from earlier this year, Jillian Bell is hilariously acerbic, given carte blanche with her zingy line deliveries as the needy but well-meaning Alice who sees Pippa as competition to be Jess’ other best friend. As Frankie and Blair, respectively, "Broad City” creator and star Ilana Glazer makes sure she doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as a comedic dynamo herself (her “performance” when answering the door for a cop had yours truly in stitches), and Zoë Kravitz, while more known for her dramatic work, has presence for days and showcases a sly comic timing. On that note, it's refreshing to find a studio comedy where two female characters, like Frankie and Blair, who used to be lovers in college and aren't treated as punchlines for it. Knowing her way around stealing an entire movie, the indomitable Kate McKinnon—with an Aussie accent that’s wonderfully daffy in itself—is irresistibly loopy as the Vegemite-eating, jet ski-mounting Pippa, thanks to her effortless gift to wring comedic inspiration out of nothing. As the randy swinger neighbors to the house Jess and her friends are renting, Demi Moore and Ty Burrell are game but gone too soon.
Predominantly a broad comedy that doesn’t masquerade itself as anything too serious, "Rough Night" still rings true in its relatable throughline about friends living in the past. Expectations are subverted the most during the scenes that juxtapose Jess’ coke-snorting, stripper-killing party with Paul’s bachelor party, calm and proper by comparison at a wine tasting with his buddies (Patrick Carlyle, Bo Burnham, Hasan Minhaj, Eric André). This funny bit evolves into an outlandish B story involving an adult-diapered Peter’s misadventure-filled drive to Miami, which his friends call the “sad astronaut,” inspired by astronaut Lisa Nowak. That subplot does have its moments, like a very likable (and physically nimble) Paul W. Downs window-washing a semi-truck, but if it had been trimmed or excised altogether, the finished product would’ve felt a little less scattered at times. If laughter really is the best medicine, “Rough Night” is exactly what one needs in a summer of sequels and mega-budgeted tentpoles.