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Rough Night

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Rough Night

Welcome to the newest contribution to the summer junk movie culture. Rough Night is a ridiculous movie but in one way it is a groundbreaker. After decades of movies that make fun of women, this one upends custom (and censorship) by making men the subject of derision. Although this may not be what you’ve been waiting for, it whacks male movie dominance by simply reversing the insult system.

So what is Rough Night’s gift to our culture? Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and Peter (Paul W. Downs) are about to be married. Peter’s ushers have gathered in the quiet dignity of a wine tasting evening. Jess’s old friends have been summoned by Alice (Jillian Bell) for a night-before-the-wedding bachelorette party, their first gathering since high school. The language, gestures, and set-ups are in female hands now while men who cross their paths during this evening are doomed – in one way or another.

Alcohol, cocaine, drunk in the hot tub, a dead guy confined in a sex swing, making love to a dead man, inspecting an unconscious cop. Although the whole thing is ludicrous, we can acknowledge that the women who made this one had decades to make up for. Women have been targets forever. The one major involuntary laugh here is the sight of one man naked beneath a body hugging outfit tailored to his shape. He looks as dumb and silly as women as objects have seemed for years.

The big question: does the cast rescue the preposterous material? Of course not. They do their best but the simple truth is that it’s just not possible. Scarlett Johannsson wends her way through the farce with a modicum of dignity. Paul W. Downs wins our sympathy as her fiancé and we know they will be happy once this terrible evening is over. A gentle salute goes to Kate McKinnon who manages to be slightly funny with her Australian accent. Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz play a couple considering a renewal of their high school relationship. This cast has succeeded in making themselves look as silly as the men who long ago invented raunch for their bachelor parties.

The only thing that comes close to sophisticated cruelty here is that the women inflict the humiliation with male cool. No giggly girl stuff, just cold, calm uncaring behavior at the expense of others. For all its silliness, it changes the movie culture by turning men into objects.

But that said, isn’t there a genuine question to be asked about whether unfunny sight gags and labored jokes are worth the trip when ticket prices are exorbitant and the movie is basically stale? The lesson here may just be that pre-wedding behavior parties are pretty old stuff whether women or men are the goats. This all sounds preposterous, and it is just that, but it will be remembered as the awful movie that triggered the reversal of male/female comic clichés. It’s a female chorus howling “Gotcha!”

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Rough Night
Word Count : 496
Running time: 1:47
Rating : R
Date : July 2, 2016

 

This review was posted on July 13, 2017, in Comedy.

The Big Sick

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Big Sick

Don’t miss The Big Sick. It isn’t often that writers, director, and a large cast blend to create a story that spreads through audiences with an escalating sense of affection for all the players. Writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani who are married in real life have created a screenplay rooted in their own story. It’s a good one.

Pakistani Kumail (himself) and Midwestern Emily (Zoe Kazan) meet in the nightclub where Kumail is trying to make it as a standup comedian. After Emily fires a comment at him from the audience, they alternate between living together and living their old lives which for Kumail means frequent visits to his strong family. His mother (Zenobia Schroff) follows custom by inviting a series of beautiful, smart Pakistani women for dinner to ensure that Kumail will marry one of them. His dad (Anupam Kher) is imperious – for a while.

Wonderful complexity sets in when Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) come east to take care of their daughter when she is hospitalized. Who is this Pakistani man who is so close to their daughter? And so we have two strong families who love their adult children and one whose culture demands marriage within.

Kumail is loyal and loving to his family but firm in his determination to become a real part of his new country. He will love his old roots right along with the new ones he is sinking. Imagine the fun of this emotional landscape. There are no bad guys, just differing cultural commands. We end up rooting for everyone, and the reason it works is that in this cast of many nationalities, each actor has a winning, quirky appeal. What fun, no villains. While all this is going on, we are laughing, empathizing, and enjoying their various roadblocks.

Zoe Kazan’s Emily is smart and salty, an irresistible life partner for our standup comedian. Though she’s onscreen for a short time, she’s so good she becomes the focus of the plot. Holly Hunter is eccentric and perfect as Emily’s mom. She measures everyone in her daughter’s life by whether they deserve to be there. Kumail Nanjiani who co-wrote with his real life wife and plays Kumail, is unforgettable. In a complex role of comedian/lover/ family loyalist, he is absolutely convincing – and lovable.

Director Michael Showalter manages both cast and circumstance with grace. How can he generate suspense and curiosity without any villains? Under his hand it happens naturally as the actors become indistinguishable from their characters. He is dealing with a rigid Pakistani family, a standup comic culture, and two terrific leads.

There’s no need here for manufactured conflicts. The cultural differences are a perfect playing field. In this large group of actors from different backgrounds, every one of them helps to lead us through several cultures, and not one of them turns out to be mean. Look forward to feeling yourself slip into gentle appreciation, and laughter.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Big Sick
Word Count : 498
Running time : 2:00
Rating : R
Date : 9 June 2017