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Thread: ROUGH NIGHT (Lucia Aniello 2017)

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    Jul 2002
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    ROUGH NIGHT (Lucia Aniello 2017)



    Weight problem

    At the Cannes Festival this year, Nicole Kidman, who said that at a fifty she's never been getting more work, declared that it would be her policy from now on to make one film with a female director at least every eighteen months. She didn't say what kind of film. Would she have made a film like this one, which features a female director and female main cast? Or would she have waited for something better to come along?

    In Rough NIght Scarlett Johansson, who may not have been so choosy, has taken time off from a dazzling string of weird and super-heroic roles to do some comedy. This is a movie about five girlfriends on a prenuptial beach jaunt for "Jess" (Johansson), who's running for state senator and planning later to marry her boyfriend Peter (Jillian Bell), that goes wildly wrong. How wrong, you may guess from the original film title, "Rock That Body." The hunky Ryan Cooper plays the body, an "escort" male stripper who dies when one of the ladies, Alice (Jillian Bell), who's rather large, takes a dangerous leap at him that leads to a fatal head injury for the unfortunate young gentleman.

    Lucia Aniello, director of "Broad City," who has brought collaborators along from that TV series, performs a dangerous leap of her own when she tries to take such a dark event into a humorous direction. Initially, at least, the material jibes with the Hangover male debauchery comedies, with vulgarity to match. But as the girls indulge in various stimulants, especially cocaine, they reach a more feminine level of hysteria that's perhaps what makes the presence of a dead hunk only a blip. They have to get rid of him, though, which allows the kind of slapstick fall-down humor this movie prefers to be introduced naturally, even if it's all more outrageous than funny ha-ha.

    I kept feeling the dead body was wasted; that this would have been more interesting if its plot line had been serious and Chabrol or Highsmith had been put on the job. I learned a new term, not from the film but from reviews: "flop sweat," meaning sweat from nervousness or fear, as of performers. As of comics striving for laughs and failing, perhaps? " The movie is glazed in flop sweat," wrote Alan Scherstuhl of the Voice, "moist with the producers’ fear that if the wildness lets up for a heartbeat, we’ll be bored." Perhaps that's so, although the cast seems to be having a good time, and lively action is essential to such a comedy and such a situation. I'm glad to know about "flop sweat," but it's an ugly term for what's going on here, and I don't think I'll adopt it for my own personal use.

    The four female "dudes" are all college pals reunited ten years later, including leftie activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and posh realtor Blair (ZoŽ Kravitz, adding a touch of color and of class), plus Jess's newer Skype-fueled buddy from Australia, Pippa aka "Kiwi" (Kate McKinnon, who's really from New York, and SNL). A sour note is set by the neediness and jealousy of the overweight Alice, who takes an immediate dislike to her new rival Pippa and tries to sabotage her. They end as best mates: it's not convincing. Few of the plot twists are. And we wouldn't really expect them to be. But there would be more warmth in this comedy if the relationships, especially Alice's and Pippa's, felt a little more three-dimensional. Not real, just vivid: think Laurel and Hardy, a pair of adversarial friends whose comic sparring is unforgettable.

    There's also a pair of leering posh landlords, Pietro (Ty Burrell) and Lea (Demi Moore), smarmy "swingers" straight out of the Addams Family, vividly conceived if more wince-inducing than funny. And there's more, a "cop" and a couple of Miami "detectives." In fact there's one too many characters and comic setups. It would have been better to get more strong mileage out of the main ones. Due to the proliferation, one may come to think that nothing here is really real, or really as funny as it's meant to be, because it's all so artificial - though in truly funny comedy surely that doesn't matter.

    True comic slapstick genius is a kind of sublime madness. That the genius flagged somewhat here is reflected in the way we become hyper aware that everything is happening at the group's hired beachside villa. If the physical business really sang, as it does in Jacques Tati's "Hulot" comedies, again, restricted surroundings wouldn't matter.

    Another contrivance is to have Peter, the fiancť, on his own more sedate male "dudes" night, a private wine tasting - but when the terrified Jess stops answering her phone, Peter's pals send him on his own substance-fueled wild trip, driving down to Miami to find Jess wearing, for some reason, adult diapers and taking illegal stimulants that drive him nutty. Was this really so funny, as it did at times seem - or just a welcome relief from the hysteria in the glass beach house? Highest praise for this movie by critics has been that it will pass the time (or not) - and that anyway, once it's over, you'll soon forget it.

    Maybe. Memories can linger even when they're just a blur, though. All that's clear is that my memories of Rough Night will not be of side-splitting laughter.

    Rough Night, 101 mins., opened 16 Jun. 2017. Metascore 51%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-29-2017 at 11:52 AM.


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