Verdict: A fantastic concept and creative team cannot overcome the foundational character problems inherent in Rough Night. Skip the theater, catch this one on Netflix.
The Good: An excellent ensemble performance highlights rarely touched on topics in mainstream comedies
Rough Night is one of those unfortunate cases where the marketing and concept kill the movie long before it hits the screen. Even from the trailers, the comparisons to The Hangover and Very Bad Things is unavoidable. A group of friends goes to a place known for fun to either a. reconnect or b. escape their stressed/boring lives or c. both, and end up in an increasingly intense series of comedically dark shenanigans. Rinse and repeat.
But putting Rough Night up against these other films does it an injustice. A comedy film with these same beats, but consisting of an entirely women led cast, and directed and written by a woman, is unique. It explores ideas that its predecessors did not: friendships between women of various class, race, and power status, bisexuality, and same-sex relationships.
And the cast really is everything in this movie. It is both its savior and its failing (more on that in a second). Individually, Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zöe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, and Kate McKinnon are all very talented. As a group, they are tour de force. What stood out most was their dynamic. The relationships and dialogue are complex, rather than falling into the stereotypes often perpetuated in films about women made by men. It is a refreshing change of pace for a big-name summer comedy.
The Bad: Disappointingly shallow individual characters mar the impressive cast dynamic
Unfortunately, that dynamic is hindered by the individual characters, in what ended up being a confusing paradox. As a whole, their dynamic was great. On their own, each character ends up inconsistent at best and shallowly one-note at worst.
Johansson plays a too-wrapped-up-in-work character who is worried about her image given her political campaign. That worry comes and goes seemingly at random throughout the film, and she is jarringly removed from most of the third act. She is a character to which things happen, rather than acting on a set of clear wants and needs.
Jillian Bell plays the exact same character from Fist Fight, Office Christmas Party, The Night Before, and 22 Jump Street. She is the loud, socially buffoonish friend, this time with some welcome deeper motivations. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to get past the familiarity of Bell’s type casting.
McKinnon’s role suffers from a similar problem. Her character is undeniably one of the funniest parts of the movie, to the point of detriment. She once again plays an over-the-top, eccentrically bug-eyed character, who has fantastic bits. Within the larger cast dynamic and story, those bits, by and large, don’t make any sense. McKinnon’s character is a brief distraction from most sequences, rather than an organically funny part of the story.
Kravitz manages to avoid many of these problems, though her character is still blemished by jarring and unclear motivations. Glazer, her narrative partner, does not. While their relationship is both nuanced and interesting, Glazer’s individual trait is “millennial.” And it doesn’t come off as legitimate, but rather the butt of the joke; Glazer is the trying-too-hard activist, for the other characters, particularly Kravitz, to comment on.
The rest of the film is fine, living or dying on the good or bad discussed prior. In the end, it’s an alright comedy that could have been much, much more.
The Ugly: Really not a lot. Also, Colton Haynes is an honest to goodness delight
There is undoubtedly some problematic components in this film, probably centered Kravitz as the sole black woman, or as the bisexual character, both of which might be commented on too much, or not enough. I am absolutely not the person to take that apart, but there are some well-done think pieces by women of color that do a better job than I. What *can* be said is Colton Haynes needs to be cast in more things, ASAP. Arrow showed his surprising dramatic skills, while Rough Night highlights a wonderful comedic side. Hollywood: put Haynes and Kravitz in a road trip movie, and you’ve got at least one guaranteed fan.
Synopsis: “A bachelorette party gets progressively more out of control for four reunited college pals when their drug-fueled good time suddenly includes a dead male stripper.” – Fandango