'Rough Night' Review: Sex, Drugs & Murder by Lap Dance
By John Boone
There will be much ado about girls behaving bawdily in Rough Night -- it is one of only two R-rated studio movies directed by a woman in the past 20 years, along with Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated -- but the dark comedy is more than just being crude like a dude. It's funny because it is smarter than that.
The story begins in 2006, the year Justin Timberlake brought "Sexyback," Britney broke up with K.Fed and four hard-partying best friends at George Washington University, drunk on cheap beer and endless hope for the future, vowed to remain besties forever. Ten years on, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blaire (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) barely keep in touch.
Jess' bachelorette weekend in Miami provides an ideal excuse for the foursome to reunite, along with Jess' best friend from her semester abroad in Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon). But what does the bride-to-be, a buttoned-up politician running for Senate, still have in common with a foul-mouthed schoolteacher, a hippy dippy professional activist and a bougie, unhappily-divorced single mother? A proclivity towards cocaine, it seems, and, after the group accidentally kills a stripper mid-lap dance, a dark secret.
(That's just one thread in this twisted tale. I haven't mentioned the bachelor party, or the "sad astronaut," or Demi Moore and Ty Burrell's turn as a couple of slimy Miami swingers next door, or Bob the Drag Queen's cameo as a club DJ during a standout dance sequence.)
Scripted by Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, both writers on Broad City (in which Downs also plays Trey), and directed by Aniello, Rough Night is, perhaps instinctively, very Broad City-ish, in its frank discussion of vibrators and HPV and its celebration of being woke and casual queerness. And in Glazer's performance. (Which isn't a knock! She's damn good at it!) A subtly hilarious Kravitz, meanwhile, flexes her versatility, offering something completely different from her equally wonderful work on Big Little Lies earlier this year.
Rough Night mostly serves as a stage for Bell and McKinnon -- both of whom so often act as the loose cannons in their other projects, like 22 Jump Street and Ghostbusters, respectively -- to one-up each other for increasingly bigger laughs. (Both starred in last year's Office Christmas Party, but did not share any screen time.) Bell is a bull in a comedy china shop, barreling through scenes with mad, hammy energy. There is infinite joy to be gotten from the (quite frankly) awe-inspiring amount of dick jokes she can tell. McKinnon, on the other hand, immediately dominates every scene she is in, improvising to twist it into something oddly hilarious and uniquely Kate McKinnon. And if she sometimes feels like she is acting in a different movie than everyone else, she leans so far into her jokes that you happily take the ride with her. Because who cares, as long as it's funny?