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Rough Night Has Humor, Heart…and Cringe

But it’s cringe with a purpose

Rough Night is one of those movies you don’t watch too seriously. A lineup of some of the funniest comedians makes it a bit hard to take Rough Night as anything more than light fodder. To do that, though, would be a mistake. A bachelorette party in Miami quickly takes a crazy and dark turn when the old college friends accidentally kill the party’s stripper. What ensues is one hell of a cover up that has lots of laughs (with a good helping of some cringe.)

As many would expect, there’s some groan worthy moments in Rough Night, although a deeper look at them would make one wonder if these moments are so cringeworthy by accident or if it was a carefully calculated way to hold a mirror to society and show just how cringey we’ve become. The movie walks a fine line, but most of the groans feel purposefully done.

Most of these groans come from Ilana Glazer as Frankie, the social justice warrior feminist galore. Whether Frankie is talking about taking a “protest dump” or enjoying the male stripper being “mansploited,” the character is a perfect example of how grating it can be to listen to someone who always has a cause to drone on about. As frustrating as Frankie can be, she manages to still be likable. You may not agree with how radical she is, but as a person, her character is well rounded and reigned in when necessary, usually by Blair, played by Zoë Kravitz.

Blair is Frankie’s college lover (because this wouldn’t be a movie about old college friends without some lesbians involved, right?) She and Frankie are arguably the tangental characters of the core girl group, as most of the story focuses on Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and Alice’s (Jillian Bell) relationship. Like Frankie, Blair is unlikable but for the opposite reasons. While Frankie turned into a radical protestor determined to change the world, Blair left college to become wealthy and well off. She’s uptight and levelheaded, a stark contrast to Frankie’s crazy demeanor and free spirit. Opposites must attract.

While Frankie and Blair give Rough Night some minor irritation, the movie is able to get some genuine laughs going when it sticks to its core story concerning Jess and Alice. It may not be very deep, it’s simple enough to allow for satisfying jokes and keep the movie flowing. Jess and Alice have grown apart since college. Jess arrives to her bachelorette party while trying to have a successful run for senate. She’s stressed, but destined to have a good time.

Alice, on the other hand, is a teacher and thrill seeker. She cherishes her friends and would spend all her free time with them, especially Alice. The movie takes its time to explore the two characters’ differences and motives, and there’s  a nice reveal towards the movie’s climax that makes Alice much more endearing than she came across for the majority of the film. A good source of tension comes from the surprise introduction of Jess’s new best friend – Pippa the Kiwi (Kate McKinnon). Alice planned the bachelorette party down to the minute, and the addition of Pippa throws a spanner in the works and turns Alice into a jealous and sometimes rude person as she vies to be Jess’s favorite.

Funnily enough, Rough Night‘s plot is driven by the bachelorette party’s desperate attempts to deal with the fact that as soon as the fun began, their stripper ended up dead. The various and wildly concocted attempts to get off scot-free drive the pace, but there’s usually very little progress as one might expect. The stripper’s death is the vehicle, but the real story here is in the girl’s relationships with one another and how they can come together to save each other’s asses.

Rough Night faces its roughest spot when it comes to the bachelor party. A B-side to the main plot follows Jess’s fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs). Thankfully, the secondary plot eventually plays a role in the major story, but, damn, if it isn’t an excruciating time getting there. The comedy tends to get very stale with Peter and friends. At first, the contrasting parties are hilarious: Jess and friends are doing drugs, dancing in clubs and drunk off their face while Peter and his buddies are having a wine tasting and being as cultured as possible. That joke quickly runs its course, and after the fourth or fifth time checking in with the boys, it’s grown old. Are there some funny moments? Certainly, but when it comes to Peter’s storyline, only 10% of the time is it genuinely interesting or enjoyable.

Ty Burrell and Demi Moore steal the spotlight in all scenes they’re in as Pietro and Lea, the sex-crazed couple that lives next door to the house in Miami where Jess and her friends are staying. It was nice to see them have a decent amount of screen time after their brief introduction at the beginning of the film. Some of the wildest laughter in the theatre came later in the film as the girls try to hide the body while Blair seduces Pietro and Lea, the pair of which have tried seducing her as soon as they met her.

Colton Haynes offers some eye candy in his surprise appearance. Fans will be disappointed with the amount of screen time he gets, but considering he’s nearly naked for the entirety of it, it’s a decent compromise. He even performs well in a comedic role, maximizing his short screen time and getting as many laughs as possible.

Rough Night is not without its rough spots, but when the jokes land, they’re out of the park. There’s a lot of truly funny jokes, and the fast pace usually does its job to keep things from getting too bland. With that said, there’s still an abundance of jokes that push the envelope but fall flat, with most of that residing with Peter and the B-story. Nonetheless, Rough Night is the perfect film to watch with friends or on a night in alone. Jess and her band of crazy friends make for good company and an enjoyable watch.

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Written by Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett is the creator and editor of POParazzi. He works primarily in Washington, DC. You can contact him at sam@poparazzi.org and visit his portfolio at sam-bennett.com.

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