For somebody who is usually so snobbish about films, I must admit that I harbour a soft spot for the female centric, vulgar, gross out comedies that have been enjoying something of an Indian summer ever since the runaway success of Bridesmaids back in 2011. Though there are some truly great examples of the genre, I generally find that if you head in without any expectations, you will come out on the other side having had a harmless, jolly time. Would that be the case with Rough Night?
On the whole, pretty much yes. In what feels very much like a ‘ladies version’ of something like The Hangover, Rough Night tells the story of a bachelorette party in Miami thrown for Jess (Scarlett Johansson) by her best old college friends Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Pippa (Kate McKinnon). In true crazy comedy fashion, the trip goes off the rails when a stripper hired to entertain them ends up dead, and the narrative progresses as a series of attempts to formulate plans and dispose of evidence before the third act turns everything on its head.
As is the case with many of these types of comedies, the integrity of the plot matters very little. The situations that arise are simply episodic segments that allow the characters and actresses playing them to have fun and display their comedic talents, and what is pleasantly surprising about Rough Night is that the motley crew of performers are all genuinely enjoyable to spend time with. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of nonsense, but when the nonsense is being conveyed by characters that the audience are having fun with, it becomes infinitely more palatable. What comes as an unexpected surprise in Rough Night, aside from all of the usual bachelorette caper activities, is an examination of female friendship and the ways that it can change and transform from the intimacy of college to the wider world of adulthood. Priorities change and personalities changes and the film does a better job than it needs to at making us feel for the changing fortunes of these ladies. Themes of jealousy, love, lost opportunities, divorce, child custody, all have there own little moments to shine amidst the zany backdrop of five women trying to cover up a murder, and it provides a layer of depth that makes the film a touch more endearing.
Most importantly, Rough Night easily passes the five laughs out loud test. The humour isn’t revolutionary, it’s not ground breaking, but it’s punctuated at the right time and there is a pleasing balance of slapstick and dialogue based comedy throughout. I’ve already mentioned Bridesmaids in the intro, but it’s safe to say that any fans of that or the wide array of Melissa McCarthy fronted “ladette’ comedies will find much to enjoy here. It’s not the best, it’s not the worst, but it definitely is elevated by its strong cast.
As bride to be Jess, Scarlett Johansson does a fine job of playing the straight woman against all of the chaos surrounding her, though she does possess all important comedic sensibilities when they are needed. Kate McKinnon as Pippa, an Australian friend from Jess’s college year abroad, battles valiantly with an accent that would probably be passable to those who are aren’t native and those who, unlike us here in Britain, lap up more than one Australian soap opera daily. McKinnon brings all of her SNL comic talents to the fore and, whilst Pippa is the closest thing to a caricature in the film, she stays on the right side of silliness and provides a lot of enjoyment.
Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer play really well off of each other as Frankie and Blair, once a couple but now in very different life situations. There is a real chemistry between the two and though it could be argued that Glazer reverts to her tried and tested Broad City style, if that’s what the filmmakers wanted, then spot on.
Without a doubt the MVP of the piece, though, is Jillian Bell as Alice, that one clingy, over eager, somewhat jealous friend who prefers to live in the past glory days of college rather than face the current real world. Bell’s physicality and razor sharp comic timing are a joy to watch, and she clearly revels in playing a partial car crash of a character who still possesses enough relatable qualities to make her a real audience favourite. Johansson’s Jess might be the central bride, but Bell’s is the character you will walk out of the cinema chuckling over.
Overall, Rough Night is fun comedy will make for a perfect ‘girls night in’ option for years to come. The plot of silly, but on the whole the jokes are funny, and after a couple of glasses of wine they will be even funnier. Perhaps a better cast than the film deserves, but the presences of the five leading ladies turn it from a from a five out of ten to a solid six and a half, seven if I’m in the right mood. Leave your brain at the door and have some fun.