It’s not often that the two questions that rise to the top of my consciousness when leaving a movie theater are “What kind of movie drives the feminist cause?” and “How many head injuries are realistic in a 100 minute film?” But watching Rough Night left me with exactly those two questions.
If you’re unfamiliar with Rough Night, all you really need to know is that the movie is about a group of college friends who get together for a bachelorette weekend. Running for local office, the bride, Jess (Scarlett Johansson, complete with Hillary Clinton hair) is too old/tired/mature for all of this, but is going along with it to make her best-friend-from-10-years-ago Alice (Jillian Bell) happy. They’re joined by secondary college friends Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), as well as Jess’s odd-woman-out Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon). It turns out to be an awkward collection of women because of course it does. That’s how bachelorette weekends go, and it’s probably the most realistic thing about the movie. At any rate, the group decides to get over the awkwardness by doing just a bit of coke, then they accidentally kill a stripper, and the wheels really come off the proverbial wagon.
You can probably guess at the conceit of Rough Night based on everything you’ve read here so far. This movie has all of the laboratory/studio created elements to be Bridesmaids meets The Hangover: a familiar concept, “edgy” humor, cast of reliable stars mixed with up-and-comers. But if it was that easy to bottle, people wouldn’t still be trying to capture the magic from movies that are half a dozen years old. And Rough Night proves it isn’t that simple. The script by director Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, who does double duty playing Jess’s fiancé Peter, is entertaining enough, but the screenplay relies too heavily on comedic concepts instead of smart humor in the dialogue.
Most of the movie is spent with the group of women trying to figure out what to do to keep themselves out of very serious trouble. Conceptually, that makes sense, but on screen, the very talented cast had so little chemistry that I was distracted wondering why they were even there together at all. In a comedy as dark as this one – and to be clear, we spend a lot of time with a dead body that is far more nuisance than human being, so it’s pretty fucking dark – these seemed like people savvy enough to find ways to get out of a weekend that most of them seemed to have no interest in attending.
Considering why they did go and who these women are to each other – ten years after the peak closeness of college, no less – is one of the real missed opportunities of Rough Night. In a movie that tries very hard to avoid any kind of warmth (it’s way too cool for that), there are a few odd moments of sentimentality. A cast this talented pulls those scenes off so well that you end up annoyed that there’s only two minutes of actual exploration of relationships between adult women before they go back to trying to figure out how to put penis sunglasses on a dead stripper.
Rough Night is not a terrible movie. It’s also not a very good one. As I was thinking through head injuries, womankind, and how I could avoid ever again going on a bachelorette weekend, there was a part of me that was wondering whether there isn’t some feminist success in a lackluster female-focused feature film. After all, as long as there are tens of thousands of screens showing movies every weekend, there are always going to be underwhelming options. Turns out, mediocrity isn’t just for Kevin James and Vince Vaughn anymore.