Whether it’s Horrible Bosses or Bad Moms, the last decade’s worth of dark comedies have been about uncensored fantasy fulfilment. So it’s no surprise that the bachelorette party, or ‘hen’s night’ as they are insidiously known in Australia, is the perfect backdrop for this genre.
A group of close college friends (Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Zoë Kravitz) get the gang back together after a decade apart. Heading off to Miami to celebrate impending nuptials, their partying goes horribly wrong when they accidentally kill a male stripper. The bulk of the hijinks concern attempts to hide the body and rekindle their faded friendships.
The screenplay for ROUGH NIGHT is just like its lead characters: once the dead body turns up, it really doesn’t know what to do with itself. Taking the same basic set-up as The Hangover, or at least following a similar notion of a pre-wedding shindig that goes wrong, a series of scenarios follow attempts to rid themselves of the dead stripper. If it all sounds a bit like Weekend at Bernies, then consider that the original title of the film was Move That Body.
Co-writer and director Lucia Aniello is best known for the excellent Broad City. Where that show has a modern and sharp take on feminism, and two well-crafted leads, all ROUGH NIGHT presents is a series of familiar archetypes. While Jillian Bell and Kate McKinnon are two of the most talented comedians on the planet, they are left adrift around such weak material. In a film that grinds the laughs to a halt whenever fear or affection are introduced, Johansson stands out as the non-comedian.
Even more disappointing is McKinnon’s Australian accent, built around a series of Vegemite prop gags that stopped being relevant in the mid-1980s. (Smashed avocado would have been the correct 2017 reference). Paul W. Downs, the other half of the writing team, gives several other funny people (including Hasan Minhaj) a superfluous subplot. He does, however, write himself into the plum role of Johansson’s fiancée.
The current convention seems to be to throw enough comedians in a room (e.g. Office Christmas Party), and hope that the hit rate is high enough for success. Unfortunately for ROUGH NIGHT, the miss rate is much higher than the hits. So it’s a bit like a bachelorette party, in that it’s no fun if you’re sober, and even less if you are watching it from the outside.