Tuesday, February 25, 2014

About Last Night

ABOUT LAST NIGHT (Steve Pink, 2014)

ABOUT LAST NIGHT strives to rise above romantic comedy clichés, but in its haste to push through every stage in a relationship it fails to let its primary couple just be.  Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) experience the ups and downs of being together in moments akin to montages expanded with dialogue.  The course of them growing close and apart are like a collection of Instagram videos rather than full scenes.  These peeks at the dating life are long enough to get the basic idea across but feel rushed and incomplete.  

The remake of the 1986 Brat Pack film, itself an adaptation of a David Mamet play, relocates from Chicago to Los Angeles to follow friends and co-workers Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Danny and the main women in their lives, roommates Joan (Regina Hall) and Debbie.  Bernie and Joan are a combustible couple eager for their low-key friends to find someone special too.  Danny is still nursing his wounds a year after the end of his previous relationship.  Debbie isn’t in any rush either.  They hit it off, though, and while initially cautious about becoming seriously involved, they decide to share a place.  As the seasons change, so too do the temperatures in their connection.  

To its credit, ABOUT LAST NIGHT doesn’t contrive some nonsensical reason or easily resolved misunderstanding to instigate Danny and Debbie’s break-up.  If anything it pokes fun at such movie devices through Bernie and Joan’s manufactured excuses for splitting.  Still, director Steve Pink and screenwriter Leslye Headland are in such a hurry to get to that point that they skim over much of what would advance the main duo’s commitment to one another beyond the first level of intense physical attraction.  This might be understandable if ABOUT LAST NIGHT were commenting on how sexual chemistry can lead people to form deeper ties than they are prepared to accept, but the film seems convinced of their appropriateness for one another even if it fails to convey this.  Having laid a weak foundation for Danny and Debbie’s relationship, the disagreements and separation don’t mean as much when from the outset the mechanics to get them apart are visible.

Ealy and Bryant are never less than appealing as the sensitive and grounded characters, but the prescriptive nature of their arcs isn’t nearly as much fun as the passion and bickering between Hart and Hall.  Their playful and volatile relationship is meant to contrast with the stable one.  Instead it does a much better job of assuring that these are the two people in the film who really mean something to one another, even if sometimes they drive themselves crazy.  Hart is very funny as he vigorously recounts Bernie’s exploits and performs dating arithmetic so he maintains the upper hand.  Hall matches his energy and ruthlessness while holding onto some vulnerability.  Bernie and Joan’s pairing is a caricature, yet they feel like the ones with something at stake.    

ABOUT LAST NIGHT is more frank, especially out of the gate, in its descriptions regarding what goes on in private between men and women than many romantic comedies.  While some of that crudity comes across like it’s there for shock value in this genre, it helps to remind of the animalistic motivations underneath the social rituals. For a film that often doesn’t take the easy way out, it’s unfortunate that the larger share of screen time is devoted to the more conventional but less satisfying relationship.

Grade: C+

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