On its surface, it would be easy to dismiss Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night as a female The Hangover—bachelorette party gone awry, R-rated humor, mismatched personalities. But such a pithy description does a huge disservice to Aniello’s comedy, which has its own energy thanks to its unique jokes and terrific cast. While it may not be a comedy for the ages, Rough Night is still a good time from start to finish with terrific performances from everyone, especially Jillian Bell and Aniello’s co-writer Paul W. Downs.
In college, Jess (Scarlett Johansson) formed a close friendship with her roommate Alice (Bell) and their fellow students Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer). Ten years later, Jess is running for the State Senate and about to get married to the sweet, accommodating Peter (Downs). When she goes down to Miami for her bachelorette party, she reunites with Alice, Blair, and Frankie, as well as Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon). After doing some cocaine at the club, they head back to the house to enjoy the company of a male stripper. Alice accidentally kills the stripper when the chair he’s sitting in falls over and he breaks his head open on the ledge of the fireplace. The women then spend the rest of the film trying to cover up the accidental murder as new complications arise. Meanwhile, Peter is racing to Miami after a confusing phone call leads him to believe that Jess wants to break up with him.
What makes Rough Night work so well is that even though the women do a bad thing by accidentally killing a guy and then try to cover it up because they were high at the time of the killing, the movie deftly puts you on their side every time while still acknowledging the outlandishness of their situation. Aniello works overtime to make sure that you have sympathy for each of these women, but never loses sight of keeping the jokes coming at a frenetic pace. And if the A-plot ever starts to drag, the movie just spends a scene with Peter and his misadventures, which would threaten to steal the film if we weren’t so invested in the bachelorette party.
Although the setup is similar to Peter Berg’s 1998 dark comedy Very Bad Things, Rough Night is all about diving into the relationships between the characters and digging into their baggage rather than setting the women against each other. While the jokes become increasingly farcical as the night goes on, it’s always weighted down by the reality of the relationships. We understand why Alice monopolizes Jess’ time, and we understand why Jess can feel a bit smothered by Alice’s affection. We know why Alice is a little jealous of Pippa, and we can see the romantic history between Blair and Frankie. Even though the overall predicament is played for laughs, we like these women and we want to see them successfully dispose of a body.
Everyone in the film is terrific, but the standouts are Bell and Downs. Bell brings a unique comic energy to every movie she’s in. The fact that she’s the sole memorable part of Office Christmas Party speaks volumes about her talent and screen presence, and with Rough Night she gets a real character to play rather than a memorable supporting turn. Her delivery and timing can make just about any joke work, and I can’t wait to see her in more movies. As for Downs, I won’t spoil what happens to Peter, but Downs definitely puts himself out there when it comes to his character.
Rough Night isn’t a revolutionary comedy, and it probably won’t catch on in the zeitgeist, but as a debut feature from Aniello, it’s a solid film that will have you laughing for the entire movie. Not every R-rated comedy needs to become a cult classic or a game-changer. Sometimes there’s a perfect place for a movie like Rough Night, which delivers a good time as promised.