Why do you hate strong black female characters? Yeah you! Seriously, why?
Back when I saw Rough Night, I mentioned that the main reason I was going to see it was that I wanted to compare it to Girls Trip. I had seen the trailers of both at another movie and I quickly realized that they were clearly exactly the same film. In fact, I was fairly certain I knew exactly how they got made: I figure Rough Night was first. A writer went into a pitch movie and said “Ok, so there are a group of friends and they’re all former big partiers but those days are behind them and now they’re all older and have families and jobs and adult responsibilities. There’s the successful one, the fat one, the repressed one, and the one that still parties a bit too much. Oh, and one of them is kinda fat. Because having a fat member of the crew is instant comedy. But one of them is getting married so they all decide they want to get together and celebrate. One last crazy night with just their college friends. They’ll take a trip to an exotic party town and have one last crazy drunken debaucherous party. Oh, and once they get drunk enough, the repressed on gets laid with a sexy local and you realize maybe they still do know how to party after all. But something goes horribly wrong and they get involved in a criminal caper and then hijinks ensue. Everything turns out ok and it’s the adventure of a lifetime and they’re all closer friends when it’s over. ” And then a producer said “someone already made that movie. It’s called The Hangover.” And the writer said “Ok… but this time they’re chicks!” The producer’s eyes lit up. “The Hangover with chicks?!?!? Sold!!!!” And so Rough Night got greenlit. I’m positive it went down exactly like that.
And then I figured a little later another writer went into another pitch meeting with another producer and gave the exact same pitch. And the producer once again said “but that’s The Hangover,” and then the writer said “Ok… but this time they’re chicks!” And the producer said “I kind of like it… but someone else just greenlit that movie too do you have something else?” And the writer said “errr…. uh…. black chicks?” And presto we have two competing films with the exact same premise modula a genetic predisposition to greater quantities of melanin.
I mean, look at the trailer. The film is CLEARLY The Hangover, but with black chicks. It’s like they weren’t even trying to disguise it.
I was wrong!
That’s not what this movie is at all. Not even remotely. It’s not the Hangover at all. It’s not even close.
It’s not even a drunken party movie. It has moments of that. You see them. They’re right there in the trailer. Actually, you just saw almost all of them. Because they totally sucked them all out of the film to make it seem like it’s another movie about one last crazy night. It isn’t. It’s not that kind of movie at all.
It’s actually a movie about sisterhood and bonding… female relationships…. but not for their own sake. In a sense all one last night movies, from The Hangover to American Pie, are about the bonds of friendship (as was the case with Rough Night). Here we have the friendship bond not as the goal, but as a tool used to overcome some other problem. This is a movie about leaning on your friends when the rest of your life is falling apart. Who has your back? Who do you turn to when you have no one else? And how do you help your friend when she won’t ask for it? If anything, this movie has more in common with Steel Magnolias, Fried Green Tomatoes or Waiting to Exhale than it does with The Hangover. In fact, it’s a LOT like Waiting to Exhale, and not just because of the black cast. It shares many thematic qualities. And that’s not a bad thing. Because those were all fucking good movies.
So what happened? Why is the trailer so misleading? Well, Hollywood marketing firms don’t truest you. And they think you’re stupid. And they’re probably right. It’s summer and that means it’s blockbuster season. The majority of the movies that do well during summer are big budget action blockbusters, mostly with superheroes. That or animated children’s/family films. At the tier right under that are slapstick raunchy comedies. Then maybe horror. After that NOTHING MATTERS. Seriously, everything after that is noise that they’re hoping people like me see and maybe they get some Oscar buzz.
And this is a shame. Because this really is a good movie. It’s not as good as The Big Sick was last week (and if you didn’t see my review, go see The Big Sick, it’s fucking delightful), but it’s really enjoyable. More than being enjoyable, it’s meaningful and touching story with a good message featuring four strong black female complex characters as leads. And that’s really the key to this. They’re not just the archetypes I listed in the beginning: Successful, repressed, crazy and fat. They have those traits, but each richer and deeper and the interaction between them feels genuine and real. Again, this is a movie about four strong black characters and the relationship between them! Think about that for a moment…
We live in a world right now where it has become fashionable to be progressive and liberal. On one hand, this is a good thing… because I’m progressive and liberal and yay! But on the other hand, it’s sort of disingenuous. It has become so fashionable that we now use cool buzzwords to make it seem even more hip. Everyone wants to be a “Social Justice Warrior.” Everyone wants to be “woke.” If you are not a “POC” or “LGBTQIA+” then at least you can be an “Ally.” We live in a world where people constantly complain about the lack of representation for in media. We live in a world where in the midst of it being announced that there was a new Doctor Who that would be played by a woman, I actually saw people who were somewhat upset that the woman they chose was white. And they weren’t kidding. I read at least one think piece and a dozen tweets and Facebook statuses per week from people complaining that there are no good roles for Queer or POC in Hollywood. And yet, Moonlight, a movie about a black man questioning his sexuality, literally won best picture this year. It grossed $27M domestically. Also nominated was Fences, a film based on the work of perhaps the greatest black playwright who ever lived and Hidden Figures, a biopic of three black women who were instrumental in putting a man on the moon. They grossed $57M and $169M respectively. While those numbers aren’t anything to complain about, all three combined made for $253M (mostly due to Hidden Figures being a surprise hit)… also known as “two weeks worth of Wonder Woman.” For comparison, the all-lady Ghostbusters(2016) made half of that ($128M) by itself and it was considered a bomb. Hell, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 made almost $60M — better than Fences or Moonlight — and I bet you forgot that was even a movie!
In other words, it’s not so much that people want strong black female characters… they want big budget superhero action movies or barring that medium budget action comedies. They would just like them to have maybe have black women or (insert other discriminated group here). I mean, if they can’t have that, they’ll go see the movie anyway — Transformers: The Last Knight has bombed it’s way up to $126M — but they’ll complain that they want more representation.
Well, representation is right here, dammit!
And that’s why the trailer company is trying to trick you. If they could have cut the footage together to make it look like Queen Latifah was a superhero, they would have. But they didn’t have the material for that. So they went for the next best thing. They tried to make it look like a raunchy comedy. Hell, the trailer that I linked to is a “red band” trailer. There’s no reason why it has to be. They just know that if they say that you’ll think the movie is raunchy. It’s not. There’s a little bit of swearing (seamless enough that I didn’t even notice it except when I thought about it really hard) and there’s some penis (enough to make it funny but not annoying like in Baywatch). But this really isn’t that kind of movie. In fact my least favorite parts of the film were where they “raunched it up” so that they could at least pretend that it was that kind of movie. Most of this comes at the expense of Tiffany Haddish’s character, the crazy one. She’s a little too much. At times she felt like she doesn’t really belong in the same movie. She’s funny… but the rest of the cast (Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith) are just too real for Haddish to exist in this world. And the film doesn’t need the slapstick. A little of it is fine. But there were portions where the narrative just stops in order to give enough ridiculous fodder to be cut into the trailer later. It didn’t need it.
And it’s a disservice. Because really, this is a good movie. I am not the intended demographic here. But I still enjoyed it. In fact, there are portions that are downright heartwarming. It would probably be a really good date movie. It might not be Waiting to Exhale, but it is a movie that the audience for Waiting to Exhale would enjoy. And that’s the real shame of it. Because I fear that the audience that this movie is made for is never going to see it, because they’re going to think that it’s a black female ripoff of The Hangover. And I’m afraid that the audience that does get tricked into seeing it is going to say “what the fuck is with all this black female empowerment and loving bonds of friendship shit?!?!” Because that’s what they’ll say. Because the people who want to see that kind of movie aren’t really looking for this movie… they were tricked, because that was the only way to get them into the theater.
And how do I know this? Because I’m certain that because of the picture attached to this review, it’s going to be one of the least read ones I’ve written and that’s clearly easier and cheaper than going to the movies.
★★★½☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars) — Oh, also the music was great. If you like black music, add at least quarter star.