The thing that makes Comedy Central’s Broad City so successful is the specificity and relatability of its comedy. Fans feel like they really know the fictional Abbi and Ilana, creating a bit of an awkward situation for the real Ilana Glazer, as she recently revealed in an interview with Bustle. Well, for better or for worse, Glazer should have no such problems with people who have seen Rough Night, the debut feature-film outing for Broad City writer Lucia Aniello, who directs and shares screenwriting credit with her TV colleague Paul W. Downs. In the transition to mainstream, wide-release big-screen comedy, all the frankness of the writing team’s style has been preserved—enhanced, even. But the specificity has been replaced with cliché, and the relatability with broad caricature. The film has some laughs, to be sure. But it’s unlikely to inspire any BFF tattoos.
Any filmmaker would be lucky to work with an ensemble like the one anchoring this movie, playing college friends reunited for a bachelorette weekend in Miami. We’ve got Scarlett Johansson as bride-to-be and aspiring politician Jess; Kate McKinnon, master of crazy eyes and funny accents, as Australian head case Pippa; Ilana Glazer, squarely in her comfort zone as sexually ambiguous professional protestor Frankie; Jillian Bell, also in her comfort zone as Alice, a sexually repressed elementary school teacher; and Zoë Kravitz, who’s proven versatile enough that she doesn’t seem to really have a comfort zone, as rich bitch Blair. It’s difficult to elaborate too much on Kravitz’s character in particular, as her personality traits can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.
Aniello wisely gives Johansson the opportunity to milk her action-movie prowess for laughs late in the film, and McKinnon, as usual, steals nearly every scene she’s in. That being said, it seems a waste of both women’s talents to restrict them to clichéd jokes about email addiction and Vegemite, and the ensemble never really gels into a believable friend group as a result. The screenplay works within the general template established by Bridesmaids, combining raunchy sex and drug humor with earnest explorations of the dynamics of female friendship; Aniello and Downs are without a doubt better at the first part of that equation, tossing off funny, relatively fresh one-liners that, when they do fall flat, do so because they’re awkwardly shoehorned into what’s supposed to be a heartfelt scene.
To compare Rough Night to another relatively recent female-led comedy, the film incorporates its violence with less tonal whiplash than in the 2013 Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy comedy The Heat, not only because of the tone set by the hard-R dialogue, but also because the dead body jokes are more Weekend At Bernie’s than anything. Yes, dead bodies: The overarching plot of the film is similar to that of the 1998 bachelor-party-gone-wrong comedy Very Bad Things, albeit with a gender-swapped twist. Basically, after a night of heavy drinking and drugs, Frankie hires a stripper off of Craigslist to spice up the party at the posh beach house one of Jess’ donors has lent them for the weekend. Then the “terminally horny” Alice jumps onto his lap, knocking him backwards so he hits his head on a stone fireplace. He dies instantly. Having never seen an episode of Forensic Files, the friends freak out and start tampering with the crime scene, worsening their legal situation with every failed attempt to dump the deceased beefcake’s body. Comedic complications abound.
Ironically enough, the supporting cast, which includes Demi Moore and Ty Burrell as creepy Fleetwood Mac-loving swingers and Downs as Jess’ meek fiancé Peter, are given more leeway to have fun with their characters—they’re still in a box, but it’s a slightly bigger box, you might say. Downs in particular plays a key role in two of the funniest scenes of the film, a cutaway to the mild night Peter and his buddies are having at his bachelor party and a scene where he arranges a meet-cute between a trucker and a motorist looking for anonymous sex in a gas station parking lot. In little moments like these, the movie shows what it could have been free of the demands of conforming to the terminally conventional structure of a Hollywood studio comedy. Without these road blocks, Rough Night would have been a far less bumpy ride.