Summer is here and so are the much-anticipated summer films! And, so far, they have not disappointed. What’s even better? This summer has been filled with fierce female writers and directors working on films that are also about women. From comedies, to action packed films, foreign features, and divine dramas, this year is proving to be an exciting one.
Two films in particular have been receiving a lot of attention after their recent release, but not for the reasons you may think. After Rough Night was released it was quickly followed by Girls Trip, and critics and viewers alike noticed the many many similarities between them. From characters to setting, the parallels are uncanny….so how are these films different? Which one should you see? And are they even funny? Well, I’ll tell you, you should see both, and yes, they will both have you in stitches.
Rough Night, written by Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, and directed by Lucia Aniello features four best friends (and one new one) who are in Miami for “Jess’s” (Scarlett Johansson) bachelorette party. The posse consists of “Alice” (Jillian Bell) the structure-obsessed best friend; “Blair” (Zoë Kravitz) the Manhattan businesswoman/recent divorcée; “Frankie” (Ilana Glazer) the good-time-loving/bad influence; and “Pippa” or “Kiwi” (Kate McKinnon) the outsider-Aussie who’s new to the group. When the partying gets out of hand, so do these five friends, and hilarity ensues.
Similarly, Girls Trip, written by Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris, and Tracy Oliver, and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, features four best friends on their way to Louisiana, but this group of gals has a name: The Flossy Posse. This fierce four aren’t reuniting for a bachelorette party, they’re together because their friend, “Ryan Pierce” (Regina Hall), is the keynote speaker at Essence Festival in New Orleans. The rest of the posse includes “Sasha Franklin” (Queen Latifah), a popular gossip blogger; “Lisa Cooper” (Jada Pinkett Smith), a retired partier and recent divorcée with two kids; and “Dina” (Tiffany Haddish) the wild child of the group that gets them all to drink absinthe, which is when this film really gets hilarious.
As you can see, there are many similarities, especially when it comes to characters: Blair and Jess combined make Ryan Pierce, Frankie is Dina, Alice is Sasha. And the similarities continue. The set ups are almost identical: both films involve a group of gal-pals that haven’t spoken to each other in years because of a riff between two in the group (in Rough Night the riff is between Jess and Alice, in Girls Trip the it is between Ryan and Sasha). In both cases, the groups are reunited for a getaway vacation to celebrate a milestone (in Rough Night they celebrate Jess’ bachelorette party, in Girls Trip they’re headed to see Ryan speak at Essence Fest), and there’s a wrench thrown in the mix (in Rough Night the girls accidentally kill a stripper, in Girls Trip the girls run into Ryan’s current husband “Stewart” (Mike Colter), and his mistress,“Simone” (Deborah Ayorinde), an Instagram model.)
So the real question is: are these movies the same? Well… yes and no. They’re both films about a group of gal pals. They both cover friendship, sisterhood, marriage, and nostalgia for the old days. But they’re different in many ways as well.
Rough Night’s strength are also its weakness… the improv-feel dialogue. While Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon have mastered the art of staying and speaking in the moment, Scarlett Johansson’s performance feels phony and disconnected. Next to the energetic and effortless performances of the rest of the cast, Johansson’s stiff and awkward delivery stands out (and this behavior is more than a character choice: it’s a stiffness/awkwardness from being uncomfortable, which draws attention to her struggle to keep up with the naturals comedians around her). Rough Night also stretches itself too far by including scenes of Jess’s fiancé’s bachelor party in between scenes of the girls in Miami. While Bo Burnam, Eric André, and Hasan Minhaj are a wonderful addition to the cast, the scenes between the men take away from the already complicated plot of the bachelorette party. In the end, Rough Night is not without its flaws, but is worth the watch. And is a whopping metaphor for the way things get out of hand if we’re not honest with the ones we love.
On the other hand, Girls Trip has a stronger script, and the twists and turns in the plot are more natural. The story weaves the four girls together, their pasts and potential futures. The film, in addition to a very natural unfolding of plot, also has strong, defined, well-rounded characters. Ryan Pierce, even though she is the girl who has-it-all, is unhappy in her marriage and has trouble talking about her problems even to her best friends. The fierce and confident Sasha has money problems, Lisa is living with her mom and two kids, and Dina admits that she needs to grow up. Each character is strong, and self-assured, but, as an audience we see the cracks underneath and watch them slowly fall apart and then come back together in their own way. In my opinion, Girls Trip is the better film for those exact reasons. It’s a commentary on the estranged friendships we all have, and how people change over time.
So why are people complaining about these films? Because they feature women? Because they feature women being funny and not being dainty and poised? Who knows, and more importantly, who cares?
How many times have men (specifically white men) directed, written, and/or starred in nearly every film and no one bats an eye? Men are allowed to make/star in raunchy summertime films, regardless of how many are being released around the same time not to mention the sequels, prequels, and trilogies that follow. So why are people so upset that Rough Night and Girls Trip, two awesome female-dominant films, were released close to each other?
The important thing is that both Rough Night and Girls Trip are good films. They’re honest, charismatic, and incredibly funny. And even if they were the same exact film, it shouldn’t matter. Women make two films that kinda-sorta resemble each other and people lose their minds… and this, ladies and gentlemen, is the bias we want you, the audience, to be aware of.
Let women make the films they want to make. Let the writers write, the directors direct and let the actresses act. It’s refreshing to see comedy from a different perspective, and instead of trying to label these as “women’s films” just call them films and just go enjoy them. Both of these films have something to offer and should be seen and celebrated for what they are: great summer fun.
© Lindsy M. Bissonnette FF2 Media (7/30/17)
Top Photograph: The girls from Rough Night have a good time at the club.
Second Photograph: The girls from Girls Trip put on disguises and go dancing.
Third Photograph: The girls from Rough Night strutting through Miami.
Bottom Photograph: The girls from Girls Trip walking through the streets of New Orleans upon their arrival at Essence Fest.
Rough Night– Macall B. Polay and Myles Aronowitz
Girls Trip— Michele K. Short