First-time feature director Lucia Aniello has dived right into the deep end with Rough Night. On paper, she has a cast to die for, with big-hitters Scarlet Johansson and Kate McKinnon in lead roles and Demi Moore supporting. Her script, co-written with Paul W. Downs, was subject to a bidding war and her budget would make most indie newcomers weep.
Unfortunately, Aniello’s timing could not have been worse. The frat pool’s been drained and the diver’s landed with an unfortunate thud.
Faced with the competition of the similarly so-so, but arguably more progressive, Girls Trip, Rough Night is a comedy that falls flat due to the unavoidable sensation of being almost wilfully lame. Despite some good laughs and subtle jibs, the end result presents a sadly wasted opportunity. Sacrificed, is obvious potential for a black comedy of the most deliciously dark hues; left, is a feature too polished and commercially viable.
Fresh from a slightly misjudged role in Ghost in the Shell, Rough Night marks yet another interesting career turn for Johansson, who here plays Jess. On the cusp of marriage to fiancé Peter (Downs), Jess jets off for a weekend away with her best friends from college: Alice, Frankie and Blair (Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Zoë Kravitz respectively) and Australian bestie Pippa (Ghostbuster Kate McKinnon).
Jess wants a quiet and stress free weekend – she’s vying to become a Senator – so, of course, she gets anything but, with scenes of dancing, boozing and drug-taking following in suit. So far, so typical for the hen-flick genre.
When the gang hire a stripper, however, things take a turn for the worst as Alice accidentally kills the dirty-talking hunk and they decide not to report the incident to the police – ‘we’re all high!’ Running by the mantra that ‘if there’s no body, there’s no crime’, the ladies attempt to dispose of the body with…mixed success.
The main problem with Rough Night is a lack of self-conviction on behalf of the production. With a pace far too slow, and an anxiety to try and keep things light and easy for audiences, what remains is never quite sharp enough and often feels jarring in tone. Funny jokes are overworked and there’s an awkwardness to all too serious line deliveries. Take an early airport gag, for instance, in which one of the characters lets off a party popper and everyone in the airport runs screaming. What’s not needed here is a verbal explanation of the joke: ‘We’re in an airport…that sounded like a gunshot.’
McKinnon alone here feels comfortable in a role not so far from her usual wacky territory, with Johansson rather more lost and the others little more than generic. Their apparent self consciousness ultimately gets in the way of the fun. Which is a shame.
Despite occasional flourishes, Rough Night is a forgettable entry among increasingly packed genre opposition. When it comes to longevity, it won’t last the night.