Film Review: Rough Night

Raucous comedy about a bachelorette weekend gone gruesomely wrong delivers as advertised.
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Rough Night has plenty of Girl Power, a smattering of pathos regarding the drifting apart of old friends (albeit nothing that can’t be resolved via a bit with a gun), and an egalitarian approach to jokes about human genitals, riffing on both His and Hers. In other words, the film from “Broad City” writers Paul Downs and Lucia Aniello (who also directs) is precisely the sort of movie it desires to be: a modern, silly, grrrl-centric comedy. Young women who attend in packs while sneaking in rosés-in-a-can won’t be disappointed. They won’t be disappointed if they eschew the contraband, either; the image simply seems fitting for a movie whose tagline is “Great Friends. Terrible Choices.”

It’s the bachelorette weekend of uptight Jess (Scarlett Johansson), and her erstwhile gang from college is all there: full-time liberal activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer, another “Broad City” alum); Frankie’s former girlfriend, who is now a high-powered something or other in New York, Blair (Zoe Kravitz); and Jess’ freshman-year roommate, Alice (Jillian Bell), a woman whose insecurities pervert her good intentions into neediness and jealousy. Joining them is Jess’ friend from study abroad, an Aussie who carries Vegemite in her purse, Pippa (Kate McKinnon, who has yet to contradict those who claim she can do no wrong). Jess is running for office and has been feeling stressed; she would prefer a quiet night. But Alice, whose life is nothing but quiet, insists they go bonkers in the name of the “best weekend ever.” This necessity has only grown in importance now that Alice feels she must prove that she, and not Pippa, is Jess’ Best Friend.

The trailer shows Pippa’s reaction to the grisly deed, so it shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to note their harmlessly coke-fueled night turns ugly with an accidental murder. The rest of the film sees our heroines contending with the fallout, ineptly handling one absurd obstacle after another. Meanwhile, the film’s “B” story follows Jess’ fiancée, Peter (Downs), as he interrupts his extraordinarily mild bachelor-party wine-tasting session to drive to Miami after a worrisome phone call from Jess. The girls may be crass and crazy, but the film very knowingly gives them chutzpah; with no less knowingness does it place poor Peter in a diaper.

There’s a heck of a lot to be said about the treatment of gender in Rough Night, which the film seems openly to invite with its cartoonish portrayal of the sexes, as well as to set aside, since nearly everything it touches—biggies like death, love and sex, for instance—is handled lightly rather than pointedly. Only female friendship is taken seriously, indicative of a POV very much in vogue at the moment. But Rough Night is not a satire with an overt agenda. It is a summer film written to entertain women, and on that ground it succeeds. The plot is fast and ridiculous. The jokes are gross and ridiculous. The characters are distinct as recognizable modern “types” (here’s looking at you, Frankie) and the ending is neat. This is the sort of movie you might linger over to laugh along with while channel-surfing one day. It will probably play in the background of many gatherings of girlfriends to come, as intended.

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