As she walked down the red carpet at the premiere of her new film, “Rough Night,” Ilana Glazer was inundated by those eager to express their appreciative astonishment over the movie’s bawdy humor.
“It was a lot of, like, ‘Damn! This movie is raunchy, girl!’” the actress recalled. “And I was like, ‘Doesn’t everyone pee in front of their friends and have sex and curse a lot?’”
The comedy, out Friday, does have its fair share of out-there gags: After all, the entire premise revolves around a group of friends (Glazer, Scarlett Johansson, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon and Jillian Bell) at a Miami bachelorette party who accidentally kill a stripper and try to cover it up. There’s a lot of cocaine. One of the ladies engages in a threesome. Jokes about tampons and bikini waxing abound.
But it’s not like moviegoers haven’t seen this kind of behavior from women on-screen before. In the six years since the release of “Bridesmaids,” Hollywood has churned out a steady supply of R-rated, female-centric humor. Last summer, “Bad Moms” — about a group of mothers fed up with trying to act like perfect PTA specimens — was such a hit that it prompted a sequel, which is set for release this Christmas. Amy Schumer drank to excess and had one night stands in both “Trainwreck” and “Snatched.” And the sequel to “Neighbors” was set in a sorority whose leaders sought pledges down with doing bong rips and taking shots.
And yet every time a movie like “Rough Night” comes out, it still seems to be met with an almost over-enthusiastic, “you go, girl!” attitude.
This spring at CinemaCon, an annual convention of movie theater owners held in Las Vegas, “Today” and “Access Hollywood” host Natalie Morales was on hand to talk up Universal Pictures’ upcoming slate, including the July release “Girls Trip.” She made a point of reminding the crowd that women can be funny by calling out the late journalist Christopher Hitchens — who 10 years ago penned an infamous essay for Vanity Fair about the superiority of male comedians. She went on to interview the cast of “Girls Trip,” which follows four friends who travel to New Orleans for a music festival, asking them a series of questions about how it felt to portray “real” women in a movie.
“It’s this weird double standard,” said Johansson, who plays the bride-to-be in “Rough Night.” “How long have we been listening to [penis] jokes for? We’re never like, ‘A movie about real bros who talk like real bros!’”
The actress said she believes that there are still “a lot of social taboos surrounding a woman’s modesty” and that even though it’s “sort of embarrassing to admit,” society still seems to find it “crass or outrageous” for women to talk about their bodies.
The film’s co-writers, Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, certainly have no issue with body humor. Since 2012, the couple have worked as coproducers and writers on Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” the popular show starring Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as two adventurous, marijuana-loving BFFs. Numerous episodes of the show — which returns for a fourth season this August — begin with the friends talking to each other over FaceTime while sitting on the toilet.
“I mean, we have Ilana flat-ironing her [pubic hair] on the show,” said Aniello, who directed “Rough Night.”
“But slowly, you’re getting more realistic portrayals of women,” said Downs, who stars as Johansson’s fiance in the film. “So I get why people are like, ‘Wow! These are women that are dimensional and aren’t just talking with a guy or squabbling with each other. They have fun and are horny and smoke weed.’”
“Maybe it’s just weird that people don’t already know women like that,” Aniello countered.
“Or,” Downs said, “why there’s anything out there in which women aren’t like that.”
It will be interesting when we do something that isn’t with a female lead, how open people will be to that.
The pair, who have been partners in both work and romance since they met at New York City’s Upright Citizen Brigade over a decade ago, are venturing into the feature world for the first time with “Rough Night.” In 2015, the script landed on the Black List — an annual run-down of the best unproduced screenplays in town — and sparked a bidding war before the project landed at Sony Pictures.
“They have a very specific tone and ability to write brilliant female characters — grounded characters in slightly outrageous situations,” said Matt Tolmach, the producer who brought the film to Sony. “As a man, it’s a movie that appeals to me because it’s about people who have lost themselves. It doesn’t matter that the characters in the movie are five women.”
Indeed, because both “Broad City” and “Rough Night” star women, Aniello and Downs acknowledged they’re still primarily offered female-driven projects. They even wrote a female-led spinoff of “21 Jump Street,” though that script has yet to be developed.
“I don’t mind us being associated with that genre, though it will be interesting when we do something that isn’t with a female lead, how open people will be to that,” said Aniello, who studied filmmaking at Columbia.
“We don’t write for women, we just write a joke that if a man or a woman said it, it would be funny,” added Downs, a New Jersey native who graduated from Duke. “There is satire to our humor and a political point of view where people are like, ‘that’s feminist.’ Which, all right, cool! Everyone should be a feminist.”
The couple’s longtime collaborator, Glazer, said she was excited to see “the studio comedy facet” of their brand, which she describes as “saturated surreality, absurd in a cartoonish way, and queer.”
As for all the high-fives she’s getting over the film’s so-called progressive humor? She’s not mad at it.
“If people are excited to call it the next ‘Bridesmaids’ — even though that might be pigeonholing — I think it’s good,” she said. “That’s a lily pad leading to the next lily pad, which will be more conscious. Yes, it is so wonderful, but we don’t have to disclaim it by gender. I don’t even think it’s meant to be degrading, we just don’t have much of a vocabulary in mainstream culture for this new wokeness.”
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