Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is a senatorial candidate about to get married to Peter (Paul W. Downs). Before her wedding day she travels to Miami with her four best friends: school teacher Alice (Jillian Bell), political activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), estate agent Blair (Zoë Kravitz), and kooky Australian Pippa (Kate McKinnon). When an encounter with a stripper goes disastrously awry, Jess and her friends must dispose of a dead body before they are caught by the police and have their lives ruined.
I really wanted to love Rough Night. I went into the film with all of the best will in the world: a cast whose work I generally like, a promising writer/director whose work on the television comedy Broad City has been exceptional, and what purported to be a fresh take on a previously very male sub-genre of films including The Hangover, Weekend at Bernies and Very Bad Things. Sadly the film falls relatively flat from the get-go, missing out on numerous comedic opportunities in favour of obvious gags and terribly worn jokes. It does work in fits and starts, but those small highlights do not add up to anything worth watching. Rough Night is ultimately a huge disappointment.
The most frustrating part of its failure is that it should not be so generic and dull. Broad City is a strong and wonderfully sharp sort of television series that has really pushed forward the sort of material women can comfortably do in American television comedy. I wanted something on its level from Rough Night, and was deeply disappointed when I didn’t get it. Some scenes attempt to be shocking and just wind up feeling very slightly unpleasant. One sex scene partway through the film aims to shock and just winds up feeling queasy and inappropriate. Other scenes simply pull their punches.
It also severely under-utilises its cast. Kate McKinnon, riding high on the acclaim for her work in Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, does some good work despite – or perhaps because of – a bizarrely uneven Australian accent. Ilana Glaver and particularly Jillian Bell, who is a tremendous comic talent, get relegated with relatively boring characters. A subplot involved Jess’ fiancee racing to her assistance generally falls flat and feels like an intrusion.
The talent brought together for this film promises a much, much better film than audiences receive. That is its primary flaw: not that it is a mediocre Hollywood comedy, but that there was no excuse for it to be.