Directed by: Lucia Aniello
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz
Having been denied the opportunity to check out the well-liked Girls Trip last month thanks to its selective distribution in this part of the country, I opted to take a chance on Rough Night as a sort of consolation prize, this despite the advance buzz that when compared to the former, the latter doesn’t quite make the grade. Indeed the less than enthusiastic response to Rough Night was mirrored in the sparsely populated screening room (five of us total, including myself). Comedy movies live or die on the atmosphere generated at the cinema. It’s tough generating atmosphere between five, especially when at least one is playing Candy Crush (not me I hasten to add).
Rough Night has star power, and you get the impression that nabbing Scarlett Johansson is something of a coup for the film, seeing as a goofy, rude comedy movie sits strangely beside her other recent choices. But Johansson and her nous for a hit are fallible, as was proven earlier this year with visually busy mega-flop Ghost In The Shell. Rough Night seems to make it two-for-two. Her management are probably relieved there’s another mega-budget Avengers movie on the way to help keep her star power shining.
Still, it’s a shame not to see Johansson in something that focuses her talents. Comedy is something she’s played at before with middling results (Woody Allen’s screwball misfire Scoop, amicable rom-com He’s Just Not That Into You) and there have been her game stints hosting SNL, to her credit, but bringing the funny isn’t something that seems to come naturally. There’s always a sense that she has one eye on the crew, searching out directorial approval. “That was funny, right?”
With this in mind the real coup for Rough Night is instead Kate McKinnon, a more dependable SNL stalwart who really garnered public attention with last year’s Ghostbusters reboot. She does add zest to Aniello’s movie but, like everything here, its in awkward fits and starts as the picture struggles to find a tone its comfortable with.
The story sees Johansson’s Jess on the eve of marriage and reunited with her college friends for her bachelorette party in Miami, setting Rough Night up as, one might assume, The Hangover-for-ladies. Fortunately it’s nowhere near as bad as that proposition (or that film). Brash, overbearing ‘bestie’ Alice (Jillian Bell) has everything set. Former lovers Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) are also on hand. And, much to Alice’s chagrin, Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (McKinnon) has flown in especially. A plan to provide a male stripper for Jess goes disastrously wrong, however, when an accident lands their boy-toy smartly brained on the corner of a fireplace. The fun is blown now there’s a dead body to deal with. If only someone would call 911…
The reason that this never happens isn’t really clear. Maybe it’s the copious amounts of cocaine they’ve all snorted. Or all the alcohol (though funnily nobody seems high or drunk; I guess a bit of manslaughter will sober you right up…). Regardless, acting rationally is out of the window. As is any other semblance of sense or intelligence. Despite all having their own character traits and backgrounds (Jess is running for office, Alice is a teacher, Blair has a head for business we’re led to believe), this party of five turn into airheads as soon as things get ugly. The fundamental concepts of what they can do in this situation require round-the-houses debate.
I’m happy to forgo disbelief in favour of a good time and some earned laughs as long as the film has them to bring – this is Hollywood studio comedy after all – but Rough Night stutters from a lack of self-confidence. Sometimes the rapport between the leads measures up and you can believe their dynamic, but at other times the same energy falters. Like a car that keeps stalling its unpredictable, distracting and also fairly embarrassing for all involved when the momentum crashes to a stand still.
Applying sense and nitpicking plot points goes against the spirit of a movie like this so we’ll go easy on how tremendously dumb most of the machinations are. But even by these diminished standards Rough Night frequently struggles to measure up. By the final reel it’s morphed into quite another type of movie altogether. In different hands this could’ve been a sprightly comic farce. Aniello gives it a shot, but consistency evades her (as does, very rarely, the simple ability to crosscut). An eleventh hour attempt to turn this into a seriously dramatic home invasion movie feels at odds with, well, everything. But you get the sense that everyone’s all-in now, there’s no turning back. It’s almost as if Aniello shot her movie in sequence, making it up as she went along.
Despite all this… Rough Night is quite watchable and will sit unassuming on Netflix some months down the line just waiting for a hungover Sunday afternoon with a Deliveroo on the way. So it’s amiable enough despite it’s dependence on ditziness and the gag hit-to-miss ratio runs roughly straight down the middle, yet the goodwill that sustains it like so much nosedust does seem to vaporise quickly in the aftermath. Remembering quite what you found entertaining enough to stick with it becomes a sort of unsolvable conundrum. The good bits of Rough Night are rather like those memories in The Hangover; gone.
Still, I really do hear that Girls Trip is good. Guess I’ll have to wait for it on Netflix.