Romantic comedies are making a comeback because they are taking more chances than they used to.
Judd Apatow kicked off this trend with his 2007 film, “Knocked Up.” The vulgar box office hit showed that audiences were tired of the cutesy, PG-13, handholding rom-coms of the past. Kate Hudson doesn’t just clean up Matthew McConaughey and he’s instantly the perfect man! Relationships are much more complicated than that, and dating isn’t always so pretty.
Those shallow snooze-fests of the 1990’s and early 2000’s were so sappy that you could cover your pancakes with them at the IHOP! But in 2015, I am more hopeful because modern filmmakers are learning from Apatow’s example. Films like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008) and “Bridesmaids” (2011) have a lot of heart, yet they are not afraid to get a laugh by using course language and crude humor.
We can now add “About Last Night” (2014) to the list of R-rated rom-coms that don’t treat their audience as if they were a Hallmark greeting card. Director Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) and screenwriter Leslye Headland adapted a play called “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” penned by the king of vulgarity, David Mamet – for the big screen. Actually, this is the second time the play is being made into a film with the alternate title.
With Mamet being one of my favorite writers and knowing of his distaste for the 1986 adaptation, I was a bit hesitant going into the 2014 movie. The reason I gave it a chance was because of Kevin Hart. I had seen some of his stand-up and was impressed by his high-energy performances and comedic timing. Hart had also made me laugh before with bit parts in movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005).
“About Last Night” (2014) opens with two male friends, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Bernie (Kevin Hart), meeting at a bar in downtown Los Angeles. Shortly after, two women arrive and the uncomfortable double date begins. Through some brief small talk, we can see that Joan (Regina Hall) and Bernie are hooking up and her friend Debbie (Joy Bryant) is tagging along to meet Danny. He ends up hooking up with Debbie and surprisingly falling in love with her in the months that follow.
Every relationship has its baggage, though, and Danny’s starts to weigh on Deb. His past experience with a woman named Alison (Paula Patton) has shaken his self esteem, causing a lot of fights. Danny’s indecisive nature and fear of total commitment puts him at a distance from his new girlfriend. Bernie doesn’t help either. He is a womanizer and warns Danny not to fall too fast for a girl. Meanwhile, Bernie is having his own ups and downs with Joan.
All of this may sound very trope-y, but an all-black cast putting a new spin on David Mamet’s play, is actually a great starting point for a modern romantic comedy. The source material is taken seriously with plenty of course language and ‘locker-room talk’ balanced between both the men and women. The rapid-fire dialogue Mamet is known for is utilized very well, too.
The pacing matches the dialogue, quick and to the point. Scenes do not drone on forever like some romantic comedies. Screenwriter Leslye Headland was taking Mamet seriously when he was quoted as saying: “Get into the scene late, get out of the scene early.” It helps to have good actors who can handle this style of dialogue.
Kevin Hart was terrific in this film! There is something really funny to me about a short braggart character that, in his own mind, thinks he has got as much game as Will Smith. In a “Hitch” (2005), I don’t care when Will Smith gets his ego deflated – he’s got enough left to survive – but it is funny when it happens to Hart because he is easy to identify with. We all have friends with that rapper swagger and it is fun to see them humbled by the opposite sex.
Michael Ealy really astonished me with his portrayal of Danny. Previously, I had only known him as the reformed thug character from Barbershop (2002). In “About Last Night” (2014), he is playing quite opposite that — a businessman who is trying to be in a monogamous relationship. His dramatic performance and chemistry with Joy Bryant is the centerpiece of the entire film. All the funny bits with Hart and Regina Hall revolve around that bond.
Some white supporting characters are peppered in throughout the film to provide both comedy and drama. Jo Lo Truglio (the creeper from Superbad) is Danny and Bernie’s boss, who tries desperately to be cool, but instead comes off as super awkward. Also, Christopher McDonald (Shooter McGavin from “Happy Gilmore”) plays a kind-of surrogate father figure with a few strong dramatic scenes.
2014’s “About Last Night” is a film with a lot of soul. I would recommend it to anyone who likes comedy that is not forced, but instead grows out organically from real human relationships. No matter what color you are, everyone can relate to the agonies and ecstasies of modern courtship rituals. Dating teaches you being grown-up is not the same thing as being an adult; having a good time is not the same thing as having a good mate.
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