Friday, 14 July 2017

Movie Review: Rough Night (2017)



Scarlett Johansson is one of the greatest gifts to the SF umbrella that any self-respecting geek could ever ask for. Even if the merit of the works can be debated to the ends of the Earth like Ghost In The Shell and Under The Skin, her turns as part of the MCU stable and even Lucy have secured her place as an actress who is right at home with genre films. She’s even gone beyond live-action work with some honestly unprecedented voice work for Her and The Jungle Book, giving truly amazing performances in both; very few actors are able to translate that talent this effectively. To put it simply, I have gotten to the point where I am truly excited to see whatever new film she’s attached to, knowing her verging-on-legendary pedigree over the last few years. So, how does she fare today when she steps out of that comfort zone into a ‘dark comedy’. Brace yourself for one of the most unfortunately apt titles of any film this year: This is Rough Night.


The plot: Political hopeful Jess (Scarlett Johansson), on the eve of her wedding, has been set up with a bachelorette party weeked in Miami with her college friends Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and her Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon). However, after an encounter with a male stripper quickly goes wrong, the five friends find themselves in the middle of a serious problem that, if not dealt with soon, could result in all of them getting locked up. Too good for ‘em, I say!

Johansson is decent and (even if it is essentially robbed from her) she absolutely delivers when she’s tasked with just screaming catharsis at Alice. Speaking of Alice, Bell’s abrasive and somewhat misanthropic on-screen persona is back with a vengeance here, and unfortunately, the aspects of her character seem to be beyond Bell’s ability to make rather unsavoury things palatable. Glazer is okay, Kravitz basically has to be the straight-man of the group (and may or may not be sexually assaulted by film’s end, although the film seemingly doesn’t care about the finer details) and does well enough there, and McKinnon, caricature of my homeland aside, is really friggin’ annoying. Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as two older swingers hit that one note as hard as they can, Dean Winters probably gets the most laughs in his minor role, solely because he gives the most realistic reactions to the utter nonsense going on around him, and Paul W. Downs as Jess’ fiancée Peter might be the only actual good person in this whole movie. More on that later.

Darker comedies are pretty much required to have somewhat abrasive characters, as morbid or otherwise uncomfortable jokes are best delivered by people who would believably say such things in the first place. However, I can’t help but think that this script went about such things in the wrong way. I say that because, honestly, we don’t even that many actual characters here. Most of the male supporting cast consists of either intentionally emasculated figures meant to serve women and do little else (as shown in Peter’s incredibly awkward wine-tasting session) or explicitly stand in the way of our female main cast for one reason or another. Now, much like with Bad Moms, I’d fine with this if there was some bigger point to the whole thing, but not even the main cast have genuine character to them. Frankie is an Occupy caricature, Blair barely has a consciousness to speak of, Jess has some drive but mainly exists just as ‘the main girl’, Pippa feels like a throwback to 90’s era fascination with all things Aussie (shown through stereotyping that never seems to make any real sense) and Alice? Alice is a horrible person, plain and simple. Manslaughter and brushed-aside attempted murder, combined with raging narcissism, makes for a very difficult blend for the audience to apparently feel sorry for. Hell, if they just kept her unlikeable or, better yet, someone who needs to learn a few things, that’d be fine. But no, she gets (rightfully) told off during what I guess is the third-act break-up of the film but, don’t worry, Jess didn’t actually mean it.

This is not in any way helped by how much the film seems to be spinning its wheels for something for the characters to do. Yeah, they have a dead body to take care of, but it’s kind of weird what they little they actually do with that main conceit. That bit from the trailer where they drive through a busy street and the dead guy has a massive erection? Not in the actual film. If only the film was that adventurous. More than anything, the restrictive nature of the plot combined with most of it taking place in a single goddamn room makes this feel like a stage production that got a very wobbly adaptation to film; think Fences if Fences was criminally undemanding of its audience. They drag the body around, try to dump it, and bicker amongst themselves over something usually unrelated to the aforementioned corpse. Knowing that this kind of premise has gone into semi-memetic legend through films like Weekend At Bernie’s, the fact that this film seemingly doesn’t know what to do with that idea is painfully evident. Making a joke out of someone who was accidentally killed requires a lot of commitment and actual acknowledgement of the attitudes of the people involved, neither of which this seems to be willing to put forward. Instead, it largely goes for the far easier jokes and gags that, frankly, could be in any other film.

I really, really wish I didn’t need to keep bringing shit like this up, but it’s once again time to talk about the chick flick formula. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand my own position as I make these statements: I was literally the only person at my screening with a  Y chromosome, and even though entertainment through media shouldn’t be this partisan, I get that I’m not the intended audience for this kind of film. However, I fail to see how that should factor into the simple fact that, like a lot of other so-called ‘chick flicks’, this says some rather troubling things about its actual intended audience. A contributing factor to the sense of not much happening that so pervades this film is the fact that almost every major (or even minor) event in the film happens to our main characters. Save for the involuntary manslaughter, pretty much everything that we see is inflicted on the main cast without them really having much to do with it themselves. What’s more, how the bigger problems in the plot get resolved is rarely a result of our leads actively working to fix them. From the reveal about the guy who was killed to the resulting climactic scene that is as cringey as it is potentially insulting, ‘makes it easy’ seems to be this film’s safe space. Comedy comes from a deep and dark place naturally, and films like these that seem to go out of their way to ensure that nothing actually dramatic happens to the main characters come from a likewise deep and dark place. I’d finish that punchline, but quite frankly, I think this film’s pattern of bodily function humour made it for me.

All in all, for the love of God, I am tired of seeing films like this! Call it mansplaining all you want by this point, I’m not accepting that this is serviceable product for anyone. A weirdly recognizable and overall willing cast and a couple of actually funny jokes aren’t enough to get around the extremely passive and ultimately lazy mindset at the heart of this film. I will probably never truly ‘get’ why this film would ever be something a person would actively enjoy watching, although you have seen it and liked it, good for you; as highly opinionated as I am with this reviews, I never want to take someone else’s enjoyment away from them. With the success of Wonder Woman creating buzz for more female-lead tentpole films, I can only hope that we start getting more of that (Actual strong characters who, regardless of the gender of the audience, connect and might even inspire) and less of this (Distaff re-skins of more successful comedies that seem to completely miss what makes something actually funny, and potentially insulting the audience’s intelligence in the process) over the next long while. Chance would be a fine fucking thing. It ranks lower than Middle School, which was possibly even more annoying than this but it wasn’t exactly the latest example of a serious bloody problem. I would rather rip open my throat with my bare teeth than have to sit through another patronizing piece of slop like this, and trust me, I’ll find a way to do that if I have to. However, since this is technically competent and has enough good sense to stay coherent throughout, it still ranks lower than Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, a film I still can’t believe actually made it to theatres.

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