It’s hard to find an R-rated comedy these days that doesn’t get compared to the likes of The Hangover, or anything produced by Judd Apatow. Like them or not, these films truly paved the way for contemporary, mainstream comedy, and it doesn’t look like their influence is waning, as seen in Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night.
Written by Aniello and Paul W. Downs (both writers for Broad City), the film revolves around a group of women (Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz and Kate McKinnon) in Miami for a bachelorette party, who stumble into trouble when one of them accidentally kills a stripper. While obviously borrowing heavily from The Hangover and Bridesmaids in terms of execution, its primary inspiration is the 1998 dark comedy, Very Bad Things, which follows a very similar basic premise, as well as elements of Weekend at Bernie’s.
Clearly, this film wasn’t going to break any new ground in the genre, and that’s completely okay, but Rough Night fails for completely other reasons. Despite a talented and willing cast, the film relies way too much on cheap shock humour and spends more time on that than developing its characters and complete structural mess of a plot.
Seeing some of the work that Aniello and Downs did on Broad City shows that the two of them are really good at writing about characters in tough situations, despite only writing a handful of episodes. Their episodes are sharp, clever and really relatable, much like the rest of the series. Unfortunately, that same sharp wit is nowhere to be seen in Rough Night, a film which, while not completely devoid of laughs, seems more concerned with cheap shock value than any actual set up or pay off.
Many of the jokes revolve around such “edgy” topics as penises, waxing, fetishes, excessive drug use, adult diapers, murder, and more. This could all possibly work if there were actual jokes about these topics, but the joke is literally that Jess’ fiancè bought adult diapers, and did meth just to confront her about the state of their relationship, or that Alice was so horny that she killed a stripper. There is no set-up or pay off to these jokes, it’s “funny” solely because they said or did something “edgy.” There is nothing wrong with going beyond boundaries of taste, but going beyond that boundary should be part of the joke and not the entire joke.
When the film doesn’t solely want to be edgy, it also fails at being topical and subtle in its writing. Early on, the film makes a joke about a candidate running for state senator who became popular after posting multiple “dick pics” on his Twitter page, a blatantly obvious reference to Anthony Weiner. This joke should work, but the issue is that it never feels grounded in reality since Weiner resigned from Congress and was shamed after doing the exact same thing.
The film also lacks a lot of subtlety in its writing as it takes the time to explain jokes (that are fairly easy to understand) immediately after the joke was told. The film is chuckle-worthy in spots, but other than that fails to entertain as it goes for the low hanging fruit instead of the sharp wit that Aniello and Downs were good at on Broad City, and it’s a real shame that this talented cast is stuck with such lazy material to work with.
As well as being painfully unfunny, the film also suffers from a very predictable, messy and needlessly convoluted narrative. The whole thing feels like Aniello and Downs were struggling to turn this concept into a feature film as it’s told by a kid moving on from scene to scene by saying “and then.” The plot progression is mostly fueled by random MacGuffins that come out of nowhere, for no reason other than to create more needless conflicts, which are resolved through anticlimactic means including exposition and Deus Ex Machina.
Despite being such a lazy mess, it’s easy to see exactly where this film is going by the time the opening scene ends. We know where the forced internal conflicts are going to be and how they will be resolved, we know how the situation they’re in is going to turn out and be resolved, we know how useful the supporting characters will be to the plot and we know that the filmmakers are going to ask us to sympathize with characters that are painfully one note, devoid of development, and extremely unlikable. None of this is new, which is even worse when the film itself isn’t entertaining or coherent enough to move past that issue.
While it’s not as excruciating to sit through as this year’s other major R-rated comedy, Snatched, Rough Night feels like an extreme waste of really talented actors and writers who can clearly do better than rely on cheap shock, as well as fail to create an interesting narrative. For hardcore fans of Johannson, Glazer, Bell, Kravitz and McKinnon, as well as Broad City, it might be worth a watch, but don’t expect a film that really shows off how talented they are as performers and writers.
(Featured Image: Rough Night, Columbia Pictures)