The bachelorette comedy draws from The Hangover and makes for an unfunny farce that assumes a simple gender swap equals laughs.
Regardless of gender the “bachelor/ette party” genre is one whose comedy is meant to be inherent. Take a group of drunk people, add a hijink they need to overcome, hope the soon-to-be spouse doesn’t find out. Director Lucia Ainello’s Rough Night draws inspiration from The Hangover, Bachelorette and Very Bad Things, but fails to find the humor or characterization from any of those films. Ainello and co-screenwriter Paul W. Downs take the lazy route of borrowing Very Bad Things’ plot, and simply swap genders in the hopes that comedy ensues.
Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is getting married and her best friend Alice (Jillian Bell) has planned a swank bachelorette party for her in Miami. Bringing along old college friends Frankie and Blair (Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz), and Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon), the ladies set off. Things take a turn, though, when a supposed stripper ends up dead, leaving the women to figure out how to hide the body.
If you’ve watched any of the films I referenced above you’ve watched a funnier iteration of Rough Night. I hate to say that, especially considering how rare it is to see women directing R-rated comedies at all. Rough Night’s main problem is the blasé mining of humor by derivative transitions of gender. In this case Jess and her friends gear up for a raucous weekend in Miami that involves strippers and cocaine, while Jess’ nebbish fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs) and his friends go to a boring wine tasting. The latter subplot’s humor boils down to, “this is what women do in these movies,” with Peter obsessively calling Jess and assuming their wedding is off as his mild-mannered friends attempt to get at the root of his problems. Even his plotline ends up taking a shot into Crazytown, with Paul going “sad astronaut” on Jess and driving all night to Miami, leading to bizarre encounters with truckers and meth.
Past forays into the genre revel in the mean-spirited nature of their leads. There’s just something about a wedding that makes everyone turn into the worst version of themselves. But where films like Bachelorette were unapologetic, Rough Night is passive aggressive in character and story. Alice is the most overt and downright rude, but Frankie, Blair and Jess act as if it’s a favor they’re in the same room together. This is a meant to foster a powder keg atmosphere, and the inevitable confrontation involves everyone confessing how much they dislike each other, but it feels like one big martyr party. The women feel as if they’re re-enacting an episode of The Hills, each saying to the other “we’re such good people!”
Much of this is because Ainello and Downs’ script seems blissfully ignorant of how privileged these women are, yet use that for easy punchlines. All of them have great jobs, wealthy ex-husbands, or, in McKinnon’s case, are just kooky and apparently wealthy, to necessitate going to Miami. The house they’re staying in for the night is opulent and “donated” to them. This lack of judgment is fine when they’re doing coke in the bathroom, but becomes crass when Blair brings up being black and going to jail for killing the stripper. Frankie quickly retorts that Blair only uses being black when convenient. The whole atmosphere of the movie, despite a diverse cast, comes off smelling like white female privilege.
This misguided back and forth manifests in the film’s central plot. Frankie hires a stripper, though it’s evident to the audience – and should be to the females in the house – that the man who arrives isn’t the right guy. It’s great these women feel safe enough to allow a stranger in once, but it repeatedly happens. By the third time two obviously sketchy men arrive, whom the women blindly allow into their house, it’s easy to assume Rough Night lives in a fantasy wealthy white woman world.
Rough Night goes for the easy joke in terms of humor, whether it’s the aforementioned trucker or Frankie popping a champagne cork in an airport. These gags are fun, but the humor is derived from the visual, never the verbal. It’s easy to laugh and recall Jillian Bell running full-tilt onto a stripper and killing him – “Ha, fat women are funny!” – but it’s near impossible to recall any one-liners flippantly spat out with little space to breathe or land.
Each of the characters have clear types, but the script presents them so generically they’re all one note. Scarlett Johansson’s Jess, rocking Hilary Clinton hair, is overshadowed by a guy “people want to have a beer with” and thus decides to show she’s not boring. Alice has a sick mother and actually is boring. Blair is going through a divorce and custody battle that’s never resolved or given anything more than a passing mention. Frankie is a liberal tree hugger, and Pippa…is Australian. It’s impossible to believe these women are real, let alone that they’d be friends with each other.
Ilana Glazer deserves a movie of her own because she’s consistently the highlight. McKinnon steals the film purely with her pitch-perfect Australian accent. Johansson, Kravitz and Bell are passable, but their characters are all straight men in a world that’s unclear whether it’s chaotic or not.
A Rough Night it certainly is; the comedy is fine if you’re seeking a girls’ night movie, but it’s far from entertaining. The script is generic, the actresses don’t mesh well, and the humor never lands completely. I want women directors to succeed, but I also want the films to be good, and Rough Night isn’t. Despite a game cast of ladies, Rough Night is a wedding present you’ll want to give back.