Yes, in the past there have been a fair amount of female-centric buddy comedies to sate the used-to-being forgotten about female audience. Who could forget the iconic Thelma and Louise, the fraught with emotion Girl, Interrupted or, perhaps most recently–a.k.a. all the way back in 2011–the ensemble-heavy Bridesmaids (which one of Rough Night‘s stars, Jillian Bell, makes an appearance in)? But, for the most part, all of these films have been centered around the dynamic between two women, and the associated competitive contentions that come with it. In point of fact, the relationship between Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph) very closely mirrors the one shared by Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and Alice (Bell) in Rough Night, with one friend being hopelessly trapped in the past as the other moves on with ease. While Rough Night offers the same duo-specific neuroses as well, it also accents the power of solidarity and slapstick when a group of women join forces.
In this case, said group of women has come together for the bachelorette party of Jess (Johansson, taking on a less offensive role since her turn as Mira Killian in Ghost in the Shell). Still relatively close with her college group of friends, Alice, Blair (Zoë Kravitz), Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Australian-based Pippa (Kate McKinnon)–who none of the others have yet met–Jess has found it more of a challenge to give to them socially since their time in college together circa 2006 (which is where the tale begins–iterated by a Halloween party peppered with Sacha Baron Cohens as Brunos and Richie Tenenbaums to iterate the time period). This lack of availability is more in part due to Jess running for political office as opposed to planning a wedding with her fiancé, Peter (Paul W. Downs, longtime partner of the film’s writer-director and fellow Broad City alum, Lucia Aniello).
And though Jess’ heart might be in the right place politically, it doesn’t seem to be any match for her male opponent, the one that keeps tweeting dick pics of himself–ah, what an homage to the 2016 election. This is precisely why Alice’s preplanned to the half hour bachelorette weekend in Miami couldn’t come at a more inconvenient time. For her other friends, however, a reprieve from the day-to-day is exactly what’s in order, with Frankie’s protesting life often getting her in too much trouble with the law and Blair’s recent separation from her husband causing problems with securing custody of her son. Frankie and Blair were an item in their college years, by the way, adding an extra layer to their own unique friendship.
And so, though initially hesitant, Jess goes into her weekend with an open mind, embracing those first hours with her “it’s been too long since we’ve all seen each other” friends by snorting coke, taking shots and partaking in a dance routine at the proverbial club (literally labeled “CLUB” on the exterior) that pays semi-tribute to the same illustrious one from Mean Girls (another rare female buddy comedy–or is it an all too common female frenemy comedy?). Except, this time, instead of “Jingle Bell Rock,” it’s “My Neck, My Back.”
As the routine escalates, Jess forgets the part where she’s supposed to catch Alice (yes, it’s an overt metaphor for the state of their friendship), who falls with expected gracelessness before the quartet clears the stage and Pippa remarks loudly, “You fell!” Oh Pippa. Though her character is arguably the least present of the first billed on the screen (in body and mind), McKinnon manages to wield every line in that well-adopted Australian accent of hers in such a way as to make her the most comical. Granted, she is given all the best aphorisms, including “I’m a singer/songwriter in dreams, party clown in reality,” “This country should be burned to the ground” and “Everyone in America really does have a gun!”
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Aniello/Downs collab if everyone didn’t get their fair share of good lines. Even the peripheral characters, like swinging next door neighbors Lea (Demi Moore) and Pietro (Ty Burrell), are allowed plenty of memorable moments. Particularly when Blair, who Lea takes an immediate shine to, has to go over and seduce both of them so that they can steal the footage from their security cameras of Jess and company dumping the body of the stripper they’ve killed. After Blair’s, ahem, “soul” is entered and she asks for the tape of them, Pietro tells her, “You’ll have to jerk off the Italian way. From your memory.”
But even more than the razory dialogue that stands out in Rough Night is the constant barrage of slapstick moments, which, if Lucille Ball taught us anything, is a comedic genre that women have always thrived in and treated with far more finesse. And though some might accuse Rough Night of being simply a female version of The Hangover or a white version of the forthcoming Girls Trip, there’s no denying that it’s adding favorably to the scant canon of smart and humorous female friendship comedies. When combined with the deadpan A-list celebrity that is Scarlett Johansson as the Justin Bartha in The Hangover member of the crew, Rough Night turns all standard expectations on their ear and proves, once again, that the need to get rid of a dead body consistently brings clashing personalities closer together. But unlike the more flimsy Doug character in The Hangover, Jess actually reveals an arc to herself that only someone as polar opposite as Alice could bring out. And it is through this oppositeness that the depth of Alice and Jess’ friendship is further cemented. But, again, what’s more cementing of a rapport than killing together?
And, P.S., it’s about time a woman directed an R-rated movie. It’s been almost two decades since the last time that happened with, I think, Bridget Jones’ Diary. Come the fuck on.