'Rough Night' Review: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun...and Not Get Caught For Murdering A Stripper

The premise of Lucia Aniello's Rough Night is fairly simple. Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is getting married, so for her bachelorette party, she and her best friends head out to Miami. There's her college roommate, Alice (Jillian Bell); former item and now polar opposites, Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer); and Jess's friend from her semester abroad in Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), all ready to relive the old glory days. They get drunk, they get wild, and when a stripper ends up dead, they scramble to cover it up. If this sounds like the set-up of two different movies, that's because it is; while there are parts of Rough Night that stand out for hitting the rough patches of friendship on the nose, there's not enough in between them to quite hold it all together.

The movie is best enjoyed after accepting that there aren't really any rules or stakes — like others in the bachelor/ette party genre, Rough Night isn't particularly interested in lasting consequences — but it's hard to cut it that much slack when there's such weight put on the relationships between the girls, particularly Jess and Alice. And it's even more difficult when the tone of the scenes involving the dead stripper veers between semi-horror and slapstick, especially when there's a vivid red bloodstain on the floor, and the death itself is played with a seriousness that suggests (but doesn't follow through on) a much darker movie.

Each part steadily escalates in ways that are mostly predictable. The exception is the subplot involving Jess's fiancé, Peter (Paul W. Downs, pulling double duty as an actor and as the script's co-writer), as, after receiving a call from a panicked Jess, he freaks out that she might be getting cold feet about the wedding and makes the decision to drive all the way to Florida to win her back. (One of his friends, played by the comic Bo Burnham, refers to this move as the "sad astronaut.") His story follows a fairly uninteresting blueprint, but it's peppered with details that almost make Peter's interludes too interesting in comparison with the rest of the film. (The appearance of Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the vacation house's neighbors is similarly a bit of a jolt, though not to the same degree.) Some of the movie's best parts are when it leans into the atypical instead of trying to adhere to the usual buddy movie formula. The bizarre character bits and jokes stand out more than the entirety of the time spent trying to dispose of the dead stripper's body. Take, for instance, the women ordering a pizza and then pausing their moving of the corpse to each eat a slice, or the use of a self-wax strip as a makeshift tape restraint.

Ultimately, it's the friendships that are the strongest part of the film. While some of the characters (Blair and Frankie, mostly, sustained by energy rather than personality) are fairly one-dimensional, there are notes in the triangle between Jess, Alice, and Pippa that should ring true for anyone who's drifted apart from a friend. There's a striking bit of meditation on the nature of time, too, though it's given short shrift by the fact that it's a plot point being wrapped up as opposed to a focus on its own. It's touching without ever becoming saccharine, though the edge it achieves is undercut by the jokes that seem scattered into the script as if to remind people that the movie's meant to be a comedy. That drama provides Johansson with her best moments in the film given her role as the "straight man" of the group, not to mention a chance for Bell to show off her dramatic chops. McKinnon, meanwhile, does for the movie what a few bumps of cocaine do for the characters, projecting a manic energy that would propel her into a different movie if the parts of Rough Night weren't so disparate already. (It's worth noting, here, that the genre female friendships have generally dominated is horror as opposed to comedy, with a few notable exceptions. As a mix of both, Rough Night has a rough go of it. One suspects it'd have fared better if it'd committed to one or the other.)

If you can get over the tonal dissonances, Rough Night is fine enough. It's not quite what it wants to be — i.e. proof that girls can be bad, too — if only because the worst thing they do (murder) becomes the focus of the movie to the point that the usual hallmarks of drinking, drugs, and swearing fall to the wayside. But it's refreshing for a movie to simply present a same-sex relationship rather than dwelling on it or being self-congratulatory, and there's also the pervading sense that the movie could have been more, not just in terms of achieving some tonal harmony but in terms of self-awareness. The movie begins with a flashback in which Jess and Alice are playing beer pong, and as Alice stresses about making the winning shot, Jess points out that, if they win the game, they'll be the first girls to win the annual Halloween game. "For womankind," she says, as she tries to psych Alice up. It's a scene that feels less serious and more a comment on the overinflated importance that's generally put on being "one of the boys," which is the genre that the movie itself is trying to crack. And maybe it could have. It just doesn't quite manage it as it is.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10