FILM REVIEW – ROUGH NIGHT. With Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer. Written by Lucia Aniello & Paul W. Downs. Directed by Lucia Aniello. Rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images. 101 minutes.
Why is ROUGH NIGHT different from all other “friends go on a drunken spree” movies? It’s being compared to horrible (though popular) movies like “Bridesmaids” and “The Hangover,” which isn’t really fair. This movie generates laughs without ever having to humiliate its characters, or make you wonder why supposed adults would act like this.
The setup is that a group of four college friends are going to Miami for a “bachelorette” weekend to celebrate Jess’s (Scarlett Johansson) impending marriage. The organizer is Alice (Jillian Bell) who, in a different movie would be played by Melissa McCarthy as belligerent and stupid. Instead, she’s self-conscious and needy, jealous that Jess considers them all her “best friends.” This neediness becomes more stressful when they are joined by Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess’s friend from her semester abroad in Australia. The group is rounded out by Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who were a couple in college, although Blair ended up in a straight marriage.
As with the best farces, things start off slowly but the chaos to come is signaled early on by the reaction at the airport when someone pops a bottle of champagne and nearly sets off a panic. Although they’re now in their 30s–with Jess running for office–they goad each other into taking a break from the rules, indulging in drinking and drugs, and hiring a male stripper. That’s when things go wrong and kick into high gear. A freak accident leads to a fatality, and now the five women have to figure out what to do. Each choice leads to further complications, so that Blair finds herself having sex with the swinging next door neighbors (Demi Moore, Ty Burrell), Pippa tries to dump the dead body in the ocean, and Jess’s fiance Peter (Paul W. Downs) finds himself speeding towards Florida in adult diapers under the mistaken belief she’s broken off the engagement.
There’s an attention to detail here so that little things like turning on a TV or Alice buying phallic shaped pasta pay off in unexpected ways. It even touches on “Big Chill” territory by raising the question of whether these college friends (who we see at a frat house party in the prologue) have any reason to be friends ten years later. In short, unlike similar films, this is not a movie about stupid people behaving badly, no matter how absurd the situations get.
As Jess, Scarlett Johansson gets to show off her comedic skills which are rarely seen in her superhero movies, while the ever-astonishing Kate McKinnon develops an Australian accent and shows she really can do anything. Kravitz, Glazer and, especially, Bell bring their individual talents to the project and get their moments in the spotlight. No one is there just to be a patsy.
The R-rated humor may not be for every taste, but there’s a reason they call it “Rough Night.” Do watch through the closing credits for a scene that either ties up a loose end or, perhaps, sets us up for “Rough Night 2.” Either way, this is the summer comedy we’ve needed.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.