Rough Night is a derivative of a lot of other movies. It is also better than those other movies. It’s also in its own weird quiet way more transgressive than it’s predecessors. It’s a bawdy comedy with a sex-positive, LGTBQIA+ positive, and women positive attitude.
Rough Night starts off with a sort of rote introduction of all the characters as they party hard in college. You have the popular and driven Jess (Scarlett Johansson), the crude overbearing socially inept best friend Alice (Jillian Bell), the eco-friendly activist obsessed Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and her girlfriend the rich preppy socialite Blair (Zoe Kravitz). As the years wear on, they drift apart, keeping in touch only occasionally.
Flash to the present where they have all grown up and started their life to varying degrees. Jess is running for State Senator. Alice is a kindergarten teacher. Frankie is leading a protest, sadly now broken up with Blair. Blair, meanwhile, is dealing with the recent divorce from her husband.
Alice, fearing that she and Jess are drifting apart as friends, decides to throw her an epic bachelorette party in Miami. All four are invited, including Jess’s friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon) from Australia. Throw in some recreational drug use; a stripper hired off craigslist, a case of mistaken identity, a fatal fall, stripper’s blood on the tile, and the movie is off to the races.
The house is rented to the ladies by Pietro (Ty Burrell) and Lea (Demi Moore). They play the sexually adventurous couple next door, who in a lesser movie would be mocked and antagonized by the hero. Lucia Aniello and her co-writer Paul W. Downs go in a different direction. They make them weird and eccentric, yes but we are never made to feel like they are skeevy or somehow morally inferior. When Blair tries to seduce them for access to their security camera which would reveal the ladies dumping the body in the ocean; she finds herself in a three-way.
The other ladies watch dumbfounded and transfixed. Afterward, Blair’s mind is blown by the experience. Mingled with that is her past relationship and possible remaining feelings for Frankie. Frankie and Blair are exes but appear to be amiable. At no point does Frankie belittle Blair for marrying a man or judge her for that. I mention this because in the year 2017 in the 21st century a bisexual woman being allowed to be bisexual without punishment is an event in of itself.
Glazer and Kravitz have great fun playing the couple that can never seem to stop arguing even when their not a couple. There’s an ease in how the two talk and communicate that is missing in how they talk to the others. When they enter a room, the two can’t help but juxtapose themselves to each other in some fashion.
The only thing that could distract the two is the same thing that would distract anyone, Pippa. McKinnon’s Pippa is a force of nature. Like Harpo Marx, she seems like she’s escaped not from an asylum, but a different universe entirely. McKinnon is like a crazy wild-eyed force of nature as she plows through the movie trying to help her new friends. A lesser talent would drag the movie down, but here McKinnon helps propel the film forward with what seems like sheer will.
She’s so good you might miss the fine line Jillian Bell walks as Alice. This is a role that we’ve seen Will Ferrell play countless times but Bell is allowed more pathos. The overbearing best friend who never seems to realize that college is over. Bell’s energy supports the movie and allows McKinnon something to play with.
Scarlett Johansson’s role as Jess could easily be written off as the movie star and pretty face. The film even mentions how beautiful she is. But Johansson, long before she entered the Marvel universe, was a darling of the indie cinema. She’s the center everyone orbits around. Of the five she is clearly the most well-adjusted one, but Johansson plays into that. She’s the straight woman to the near-manic intensity of her friends.
Aniello and Downs, make sure that while Jess is normal, she isn’t predictable. From Jess’s plunge from the balcony to her rubbing the wax pad on her leg they show us a woman who may have it together, but she’s only a few jello-shots away from being just like her friends.
Jess’s fiance Peter (Paul W. Downs) has his own sub-plot to help fill out the movie. Aniello and Downs use this time to make some great jabs at perceived modern masculinity. Peter and his friends are having a wine tasting for his bachelor party. In a typical male driven raunchy comedy of this type, this would be the cut away to the bachelorette party. Also, Peter’s anxiety spiral after Jess’s phone is destroyed is a nice comment on how women are considered ‘too emotional.’
Lucia Aniello, the director, attempts tonal shifts, that seasoned directors would hesitate to make. Some of those shifts may falter but never enough to deter the movie as a whole. The ‘where to hide the body next’ escalation never really goes anywhere, but Aniello and Downs manage to ratchet up the tension through other avenues.
So many of these type of comedies feel like they hate their characters. Aniello and Downs love their characters and want them to be happy. Rough Night has an interracial wlw couple, a threesome in which everybody involved consents, and nobody is punished for it afterward, two gay, possibly bi-men are introduced to each other and at the end, Kate McKinnon sings a song. All of that plus penis sunglasses.