Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night is what happens when you let five raucous friends cut loose during a destination bachelorette party in Miami. All the normal accoutrements are here: beachfront rental property, alcohol-fueled bar crawls, penis-shaped everythings, cocaine, a shredded male stripper, and involuntary manslaughter. Hmm, maybe things got out of hand somewhere . . .
If all a comedy has to do is make you laugh, then Rough Night succeeds. Comparisons to Bridesmaids or The Hangover are inevitable, if only because the framework of the story is so familiar. Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is running for local office and about to get married to her beau Peter (Paul W. Downs, also the co-writer). Her bachelorette party will include her roommate from college Alice (Jillian Bell), their best friends Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Jess’s study-abroad roommate Pippa (Kate McKinnon).
The first five minutes contain multiple dick jokes, then a masturbation joke. You can interpret this as a positive, because they are pretty funny and set the proper tone: this film is going to be filthy in that good old-fashioned hard-R kind of way. The crudeness never feels egregious, and it is clear that Aniello and her writing partner aren’t being outlandish for mere shock value.
In fact, there are many different kinds of comedy in Rough Night. Pratfalls, injuries, and other examples of physical comedy occur as early as the flashback sequence that opens the movie, and continues throughout. There’s some witty wordplay, great dead-pan, and plenty of filthy words. There are even a lot of genuine character moments that are mined for comedy. But without a doubt, the defining characteristic of Rough Night and the aspect that distinguishes it from the other films in the genre, is how it embraces a dark comedic premise and never relents from following through on it.
Let’s be clear: it is obvious from any trailer (and also a cursory interpretation of the film’s title) that not everything goes right. During the party, a stripper that the women hired is accidentally killed. When this happens, it isn’t, “Oh noes! The man hit his head and he isn’t breathing! I think he’s dead”. It is head-cracking and blood all over the white floor as the women freak out. The funny only comes because you know it is supposed to be funny, watching these women wiggle their way closer and closer to the rationalization that they now have a dead body they are justified in dumping somewhere.
The characters in Rough Night feel genuine, with a real past between them and hidden hardships. They interact like old buddies, but there are also sticking points to the relationships, and as they are revealed we start to actually feel things in this comedy about college buddies disposing of a stripper’s corpse (no need to interpret that as shaming sex workers). Two viewers in the row in front of me started tearing up and cursing at the screen for making them feel things (presumably because they didn’t think this was going to be that kind of movie).
Also, all of the characters are superbly acted. Many scenes are stolen from the presumed headliner Johansson, but you get the feeling that the whole ordeal is just one big ensemble piece, and no one really cares who gets to be funny in one particular scene, so long as they nail it. Well, there’s lots of “nailing it” in this film, even right down to the supporting characters.
Certainly, the central conceit of Rough Night is darker than anything in The Hangover or Bridesmaids. Dark, raunchy comedy is not everyone’s idea of a good time, but when it is executed with some amount of wit and charm, as it is in Rough Night, then it is a worthwhile endeavor. Certainly, Rough Night is not going to wow anyone with its story, the depth of the characters, or overall themes, but the movie does plenty in all of these areas to not distract from the main point: to be a good, funny time – even if a little crazy and dark.