James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Cole Clay // Film Critic
Creating comedy is a difficult task, and I think that’s why most critical opinions are so hard on the genre. We are long past yesteryear when Judd Apatow and Co. made comedic classics like 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD in the golden age of the mid aughts. Really, the best comedy has been on television in the age of streaming. That’s why ROUGH NIGHT – from BROAD CITY crew members Lucia Aniello and Paul Downs and Ilana Glazer – had promise written all over it, despite a rather weak trailer.
ROUGH NIGHT is neither a groundbreaking comedy or a waste of time. Like much of Hollywood fare, it’s simply misguided. The concept of having a movie star like Scarlett Johansson playing the “straight man” on her wild bachelorette weekend with a whacky group of friends on paper sounds fun, and it is, but comedy needs the right alchemy to succeed. It’s a disservice in filmmaking to just group disparate famous/semi-famous faces together and expect magic to happen, because it won’t. Sure, Johansson has an impressive filmography, but that doesn’t mean she’s able to transfer straight over to comedy just because. It takes skill and lots of it to be successful.
The plotting to ROUGH NIGHT is bubbly and raunchy in its own right. And I’d remiss if I didn’t mention that the story is staunchly similar to the 1998 mediocre masculine comedy VERY BAD THINGS. But the story is as follows: A group of women go on a wild trip to Miami to celebrate the wedding of Jess (Johansson), who is running for public office despite her past life of smoking pot and partying hard with her mates Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Glazer, as well as the Aussie outsider Pippa/Kiwi (Kate McKinnon). While boozing too hard and snorting an acceptable amount of cocaine that would get any adult lit, they wind up killing a stripper that the group orders for their viewing pleasure. But as one event leads us to the next, it’s not so much as exciting and wild as you’d hope, but for a solid matinee on a balmy Summer day, the film is eager to please.
Props to Sony for bringing together such a diverse cast of talented people, but you can’t, and I repeat, you can’t just have to the leads of the film have little comedic experience and have such talents as Glazer, Bell and McKinnon take a backseat and expect us to buy the film’s dynamic completely.
There are more people that can relate to Frankie’s freedom fighting protests and Alice’s uptight teacher routine than people who will relate to Jess’ congressional campaign. But ROUGH NIGHT isn’t about being relatable, which inherently hurts the film. However, what you should focus on are the laughs and the writing conjured by BROAD CITY director Aniello and writer-actor Downs (who also completely steals the show as Jess’ RedBull fueled/diaper wearing fiancé). Aniello and Downs inject just enough disjointed wackiness to allow the cast to bounce off each other with a relatively darkish plotting to carry the film all the way through with moderate success.
ROUGH NIGHT is a mixed bag of party favors that has an acceptable amount of laughs throughout. But relying too heavily on the dynamic was a fatal flaw. Aniello and Downs required too much from Johansson and Kravitz in terms of comedy and rarely, if ever, asked the film’s three comedic talents to emote. Let’s just hope this one has enough success this Summer so we can get more from #TeamBroadCity.
ROUGH NIGHT opens Friday (6/16).