The raunchy comedy Rough Night wants to give women the same kind of bad taste gags and thrills that dudes got to have in similarly themed bachelor party comedies like The Hangover, but it ends up being as uninspired as any run of the mill, carbon copy comedy to roll off an assembly line, male or female driven. It’s not an awful film, just not as funny as a film with this talented of a cast should be. It’s not the kind of film that will make you feel bad about the time you spent with it, but it’s definitely one where you’ll be hard pressed to think of what was worthwhile about it. You won’t be mad at Rough Night, just disappointed.
Ambitious Jess (Scarlett Johansson) finds herself spread a bit thin. She’s running for a State Senate seat against a male opponent who can’t seem to do anything wrong, and she’s in preparations to marry her patient beau, Patrick (co-writer Paul W. Downs). Amid all of these stressors, she’s forced into heading down to Miami for her bachelorette party, which has been rigorously planned out in advance by her former university bestie, Alice (Jillian Bell). The party weekend brings together old friends, like Blair (Zoë Kravitz), an uppity rich woman going through a divorce and custody battle, Frankie (Ilana Glazer), a poor excuse for a political radical and Blair’s university girlfriend, and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess’ Australian friend who Alice feels threatened by. The cocaine and booze fuelled revelry starts off well enough until a decision is made to hire a stripper to seduce Jess. During a freak lapdance accident, the stripper is killed and the girls hatch a plan to ditch the body.
Rough Night has essentially the same plot as Peter Berg’s directorial debut, the sleazy Very Bad Things, but director and co-writer Lucia Aniello (best known for working with Glazer on TV’s hilarious Broad City) doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from most comedies where hapless saps are forced into disposing of a body. There are plenty of wrinkles in the girls’ plans, but none of them are surprising and all of them are resolved exactly how one thinks they would be. Rough Night wants to appear irreverent and is directed with a spirit that suggests anything can happen, but this isn’t spontaneous and wacky anymore. Rough Night is the kind of movie that viewers can set their watch to. Every bit of foreshadowing comes back in ways that are expected. Every knock on the door of their beach house finds exactly who we think will be on the other side showing up on cue. Every character quirk or hang up will be exploited or broken in a way to resolve the plot.
The idea of a female driven gross out picture where everyone behaves abhorrently isn’t anything new, but considering how many times these kinds of films are almost exclusively boys’ clubs, it sounds refreshing. It’s a shame that Rough Night can’t come across as anything more than a wafer thin story with tired gags that more often miss than hit and boasting a cast that’s overqualified for such a low aiming story. Curiously, Rough Night gives an impression of an unfinished film; like Aniello wanted more time for her talented cast to improvise better roles and lines than the ones that were flimsily constructed on the page. As every lackluster one-liner is delivered with maximum gusto, it’s not hard to think that each of these talented performers couldn’t have come up with something better off the top of their heads. Rough Night is the rare sort of film that might have worked better without a script whatsoever.
It also doesn’t help that Aniello largely decides to lock her characters into a single location, leading to a film where there are far too many lengthy discussions where the friends bicker about how to dispose of the body. What makes these kinds of raunchy comedies lively are changes in scenery, but outside of a random trip to a convenience store to buy a “burner phone,” some scenes where Peter and his friends turn out to be bigger softies than the ladies, and a subplot involving amorous next door neighbours (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore, both hilarious, but underused), Rough Night barely leaves the living room of the palatial party pad. If the jokes aren’t snappy and nothing new is happening, the experience feels exhausting instead of exciting.
The cast and their likability saves Rough Night from becoming outright boring. Bell, who can make any phrase she’s given sound funny, and McKinnon, rocking a thick Aussie accent, steal every scene. Johansson is having a blast doing a comedy for once, and she’s relishing every moment here. Glazer and Kravitz are constantly around the periphery and their backstories go nowhere, but the interplay they have with one another as characters who still have an unspoken crush on each other give the film some needed heart.
Most importantly, while these characters aren’t as funny or deep as they could have been with some added thought, they work and function like a credible group of friends. I believe that these people would hang out together and they would move around and sound like this. This dynamic doesn’t save the film, but it does make Rough Night at least tolerable for a night out that involves heavy amounts of drinking with the girls (or guys). Alcohol induced stupor or not, you still won’t remember much about Rough Night minutes after you leave the theatre.