Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night isn’t alone in its ladies-gone-wild practices (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s Bad Moms most recently comes to mind), but her feature debut takes an aggressive stance that equal efforts undersell. Aniello’s uniting roar shakes the foundation of Hollywood’s raunch-comedy boy’s club. This gender-swapped Very Bad Things does lady-bonding right, and without “girls only” exclusivity. In a post-film Q&A, Aniello and co-writer/star Paul W. Downs admitted they think women are just funnier than men – and with material this giddily unhinged, you’ll get no argument from me. Pop them bottles and swim through those seas of dicks, ladies. You’ve earned it.
Scarlett Johansson stars as straight-laced Jess, a hopeful politician whose Miami bachelorette party reunites old college friends. Blair (Zoë Kravitz) leaves behind her custody battle, Frankie (Ilana Glazer) takes a break from full-time activism and Alice (Jillian Bell) continually reminds everyone she’s still Jess’ best friend. This drives a wedge between Alice and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), Jess’ Australian study-abroad bestie – but petty quarrels are about to be upstaged. What happens when you go “buck wild” with cocaine, shots and wild women? A stripper ends up dead, and five heavily-influenced partiers have to clean up the mess. Happy bachelorette party, Jess!
At the center of Rough Night are lifelong friends who fulfill all the necessary arcs, but with more charm than white-girl-wasted caricatures. Kravitz’s newly single socialite (perfect life ain’t so perfect), Bell’s desperate housewife (an upgrade from her habitual psychotic typecasting) and Glazer’s extreme feminist agenda (men deserve the lashings). Yet, there’s also romantic tension between Glazer’s Frankie and Kravitz’s Blair – same-sex sweetness that “bro” comedies would never dream of attempting. Consequences may be fleeting, but Aniello ensures the situation is more than bitchy bickering and cat fights. Glazer, Bell, Kravitz, McKinnon, Johansson: they all have their gut-busting moments, along with bonded chemistry of the thickest variety.
Jokes are – as expected – of the womanly persuasion, like a “tampon” verbal code when creepers stalk the dance floor. Dick antennas, dick-shaped pasta, dick-nose eyeglasses – but not an ACTUAL dick in sight. Rough Night is the antithesis of Baywatch in that punchlines needn’t lean on visual/metaphorical boners. Raunch is to be expected and raunch is delivered – Johansson discussing her self-waxing or Bell’s obsession with college maturity – but humor is earned through execution (gasp!). A movie that actually works for its laughs?! Without shoving profanity into every orifice? Chuckles are crude (dead stripper in a sex swing), bonkers (McKinnon’ Australian accent/satire slathered in Vegemite) and wholly enjoyable because the material doesn’t use cheap shocks as a crutch. These are extremely funny ladies given zero limitations – such a novel idea!
It’s not just the main cast who shines, either. Downs and his squad of best men (Hasan Minhaj, Eric Andre, Bo Burnham) share a “crazy” wine tasting while the girls cover up their murder, perfectly reversing the “men get wild, ladies play safe” stigma that plagues Hollywood comedies. Then Downs goes “sad astronaut,” and for once, the “lunatic white girl” isn’t speeding down a highway with beaming crazy eyes. It’s the confused, overly-emotional boyfriend who’s wearing diapers and chugging Red Bull. Then you add Colton Haynes as a terrified stripper (not the dead one)? Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as Floridian swingers who continually try and lure the exquisite Kravitz into a sandy threesome? I now believe every movie needs more sleazy, continental Ty Burrell.
Rough Night is a supremely funny disaster comedy that demands attention not because it plays the gender card – but because it’s played correctly. Never overly dominant in anti-frat propaganda, but just vocal enough to rattle a male-dominated genre. Even during a thriller-first second act hinged on paranoia, Lucia Aniello holds steady on the reigns. Do I have complaints? Minimal ones, like how Scarlett Johansson is a noticeable weak link or how a *few* jokes valiantly miss. Luckily, they’re all greatly outweighed by the tears wiped from my perpetually grinning face. Grab the crew and enjoy a raucous night out – just let these girls risk legal persecution so you don’t have to.
Rough Night is a seriously funny movie led by some seriously funny ladies, but even more impressive is a mainstream comedy that relies not on cheap shocks like many who have come before.