The expression "clothes make the man" used to imply that tailors like you were king-makers. Then along comes President Long-tie Von Baggypants and the rule book gets thrown out the window. Balls-out confidence now trumps decorum (and almost everything else). If you’re a man, that is.
Ladies still follow a completely different playbook. People in your industry, and in general, obsessively fixate on how they look, how they dress, and are judged accordingly. This doesn’t just apply to politics – it’s true in business, social settings, and even comedy. Louis C.K. can sport the same black T-shirt every night, and Eddie Murphy can go shirtless under a red leather jacket and hot pants, and everyone just nods along. Meanwhile, Amy Schumer needs to excuse a slightly unconventional wardrobe choice by labelling an entire set "The Leather Special" (it’s on purpose, it’s funny, relax!).
How you outfit the cast of Rough Night is no different – everyone is visually coded to fit their respective stereotype: the buttoned-down politically ambitious conservative (Scarlett Johansson), the fat-but-fun floral-wearing friend (Jillian Bell), the proud-in-plaid lesbian political activist (Ilana Glazner), the power-suited business-savvy sex-magnet (Zoe Kravitz) and the free-spirit-in-a- sun-dress foreigner (Kate McKinnon). Every character is designed for a traditional ensemble pre-wedding comedy. And that’s part of the problem.
To say Rough Night lacks imagination would be an understatement, but retreads don’t always spell doom. Funny is funny, and even if the film had started with a novel concept, it would by no means guarantee bigger laughs. Comedy needs to evolve at a rate much closer to women’s fashion than men’s (which has doggedly stuck to small variations of a jacket and tie for over a century). Suits are like drama, where the same premise can be recycled for generations because it’s considered basic but fundamental. Comedy, on the other hand, can quickly feel dated, but also wildly fresh when the right risks are taken. Rough Night aims to be timeless (a conscious style decision by writing pair Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs), but only occasionally hits that narrow target. More often than not there seems to be a mismatch of creative intent and attempted trend-setting.
What does this mean exactly? Well for one, Aniella, as director, side steps the one-up-(wo)manship of recent shock comedies. Ample opportunities are established for eye-bulging nudity (like a penis-identifying gag with the stripper, or walking in on Demi Moore and Ty Burrell who are supposed to be sun tanning nude), but all we get are made-for-TV gags. The film almost brazenly repeats important beats found in Very Bad Things, The Hangover (any of the three), and Bridesmaids. Even the shadow of less successful films like Bachelorette and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates hang over the film to create all the excitement of holding a runway show a month after Paris Fashion Week. If it’s great, sure, maybe people will notice, but the high bar has been set, so you risk premiering in the discount bin if what you’re unveiling isn’t out of the park.
While I did enjoy the way the film pulls back from becoming a true black comedy and provides a few late payoffs for earlier set-pieces, the overall mood was still a BEmusement (to half-quote a McKinnon bit) rather than anything flat-out-funny. Based on the behind-the-scenes pedigree, I hoped for at least the same laughs-per-minute ratio as Broad City¸ but that may have been pegging my expectations too high.
Pegging because… never mind, that one was tailor-made for Broad City fans.