Directed by a woman, Rough Night offers a new spin on a familiar formula, one that is female-forward but entertaining for everyone.
Like last month’s Wonder Woman, the raunchy new comedy Rough Night is directed by a woman and the resulting film offers a new spin on a familiar formula, one that is female-forward but entertaining for everyone. Unlike many male-helmed, female-led comedies, Rough Night is more focused on outlandish escapades and genuine laughs than on bickering between the ladies. In fact, when the expected girl-on-girl sniping does occur, it is in service of the bonkers, dead-stripper storyline rather than milking its characters for unnecessary drama. Rough Night is straight up comedy, and though it maintains a very loose grounding in reality, it keeps its foot on the gas pedal rather than taking breaks for emotional asides.
Scarlett Johansson stars as politician Jess, a Leslie Knope-esque do-gooder, who is running a squeaky clean state senate campaign while planning her wedding to milquetoast fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs, who co-wrote with director Lucia Aniello). Jess reluctantly heads to Miami for a bachelorette weekend with her college friends Alice (Jillian Bell of TV’s “Workaholics”), Blair (Zoë Kravitz, recently of TV’s “Big Little Lies”) and Frankie (Illana Glazer of TV’s “Broad City”). They meet up with Jess’s Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live”) and starting behaving badly, mixing cocktails with marijuana and cocaine, which inevitably leads to a stripper being called. By this point, each of the characters has been established. At first, they all appear to be archetypes: the rich whiner, the sex-crazed one, the kooky free spirit, the militant lesbian and the uptight goodie-two-shoes. However, as the plot progresses, each develops in surprising and entertaining fashion, and the audience will come to realize that the stereotypes we have placed on them are our own. Any of the characters could be real women, and Rough Night’s insane scenarios bring out their secret qualities.
Things kick into high gear after the stripper’s arrival, and the pacing is fast and funny, barely allowing for time between gags. Aniello wisely offsets the women’s crazy antics with scenes of Peter’s corresponding bachelor party, and the comparison makes for even more laughs. Throughout, each of the lead actresses is given time to shine, another of Rough Night’s more refreshing qualities. McKinnon is reliably wonderful in her role, giving Pippa just the right mixture of insanity and warmth. Kravitz has one of the movies more memorable moments as Blair is forced into a ménage-a-trois with creepy neighbors Pietro and Lea (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore, both magnificently sleazy in cameos). Glazer uses her expressive eyes and varied vocal intonations to maximum effect, making Frankie the group’s most lovable weirdo. Johansson’s straight-laced character forces her to play it straight for long stretches, but this leads to many of the film’s best gags. And Bell’s Alice blends raunchiness and desperation in perfect combination. The men have their moments as well, particularly Downs, whose character arc from doormat to hero is the film’s most satisfying.
Though many elements of Rough Night are familiar, it never stops feeling fresh and surprising, which probably speaks more to the lack of female voices in film than it does anything else. There is a distinct femininity to Rough Night, and that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently sweet or warm. Instead, it’s a film that consistently gives its female characters goals and agency. Even when they’re figuring out how to hide a dead body, they are talking to one another, often about something other than men. Rough Night aces the Bechdel Test yet still allows its characters to be sexy and sexual on their own terms.
Given the bachelorette party theme, comparisons will obviously be made to Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, and it will probably be called a “female Hangover.” But those comparisons are a disservice, as Rough Night is a better, funnier film than either of those. It’s humor is reflective of our times, which may mean that it won’t completely register with older viewers, and it features plenty of near-naked men and vagina talk, which may put off some insecure men, but it’s a comedy that deserves everyone’s attention. Rough Night is an excellent, refreshing and raunchy comedy that marks Lucia Aniello as a director to watch.