In her feature directorial debut, Lucia Aniello, best known for her writing and directing work on the creative and consistently hilarious Broad City, presents what may well be the most ridiculous bachelorette party ever. Rough Night follows a group of friends played by Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz, and Jillian Bell, as their Miami bacchanal takes an absurdist, morbid turn involving the accidental death of a male stripper. The film is the type of broad comedy usually filled with bros, and it’s refreshing to watch a group of charismatic women behaving badly. Aniello, who also wrote the screenplay with boyfriend and frequent collaborator Paul Downs, directs the film with a playful energy, creating a proudly silly and at times subversive summer comedy. We spoke to the writer-director about her influences, television versus film, and playing with genre conventions.
Were there any favorite comedies that you looked to when making this film?
I was definitely a late-’90s comedy dork, so I love Daria and The State. I was always obsessed with SNL – Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, that whole world was a huge inspiration for me. I basically just googled Amy Poehler’s name and that was how I ended up at Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Those were some pretty big inspirations for me growing up. My favorite movie is probably Back to the Future Part II. I also love Mean Girls and Clueless, and I’ve always loved stoner comedies like Half Baked. And Kevin Smith’s stuff, like Mallrats. I always liked lo-fi stuff that felt really real. I was always excited to watch characters that felt like I was friends with them or wanted to be friends with them. I felt like it was a gateway to hanging out with people who were cooler than me. I grew up in a pretty cool area in small town Western Massachusetts, and grew up with the same 40 people for basically my whole life – which I love – but I liked being exposed to different stuff. I’d get into bands and go to a lot of shows, and that was always an artistic outlet. And I loved music videos. I was always obsessed with them. I would record my favorites on VHS. I didn’t exactly know what all that meant for me but I always knew I was generally attracted to comedy and cool people.
What were some of the music videos you were into?
I loved the whole oeuvre of the No Doubt era, I loved The Smashing Pumpkins, there was a great video, [Cibo Matto’s] “Sugar Water,” where the girls were backwards the whole time. That was my general era. When I was 17 and 18 I had a local radio show.
What are some of the differences you’ve found between working in television and film?
It’s weird, on a production standpoint there really isn’t a huge difference. I had a similar amount of time per page for this movie, because we had five women in a room for a lot of the movie, which meant a lot of coverage. It ended up being kind of similar pace-wise to television. I would say the thing that was different was the storytelling. Obviously, you’re telling a bigger story and need adequate character development and story turns. That was my intention. I didn’t want people to sit in the theater and feel like they were watching a long episode of television. I wanted each act to feel really distinct and I wanted it to feel exciting and create a lot of investment in the characters. I wanted it to stand alone as something people would be excited enough to drive to the movie theater and see.
How did you navigate dealing with clichés in this genre of raunchy comedy? When the trailer came out some people seemed frustrated with the “killing a stripper” premise, but then the movie ends up turning that all on its head.
In some ways, if people just want to judge it based on the trailer, then yeah, that is what they’re gonna think it is. But that’s not at all what it actually is. I like to say, “You think you know, but you have no idea.” It was also really important to us that the trailers didn’t give away too much of the terms and the ways it intentionally subverts the genre. I’m really looking to critics and journalists to suggest that it’s worth your time and it’s not what you think it is, without giving away too much of what actually happens. I really like the idea that the audience is surprised as they watch. I was well aware of the tropes of those kinds of movies and to me it really subverts that expectation, but it’s hard for me to tell people that.
And then after all the craziness, there’s a subversively happy ending.
I feel like all the characters deserve a good ending but I also wanted to open the door for a little more possibility with the post-credits scene. I like keeping the door open. And I feel like you really go through hell with these characters. You experience their friendship at the beginning of the movie and root for them to get back there.
What was the casting process like?
It was really important that they all balanced and meshed together. We cast Scarlett first and then we were able to think “okay, this person makes sense with this person.” We had a big board and a lot of faces, and the cast we ended up with is beyond my wildest dreams. I feel so “hashtag blessed” that they all were excited to be a part of it. I’ve known Kate for a really long time and had been wanting to work with her, and obviously I’ve worked with Ilana a bunch. Zoë and Jillian I had only been fans of. And they really all bonded and loved each other so much that it really did feel like I was looking at a group that had been friends for ten years, and that’s not anything that I can really take credit for. That was just the muse taking over and sprinkling some pixie dust on these women.
How is it working with Paul? Do challenges come up when you’re working with your partner?
It’s mostly all amazing. There are some moments where you’re taking your work home with you and that can be tiring, but we try to be mindful about creating space for ourselves personally and professionally. Of course they overlap but we have something special – we’re always trying to make each other laugh. So that helps our writing voices. We’re trying to write for our favorite audience, which is each other. And he’s the smartest, funniest guy I know.
I know you probably get asked about being a woman director all the time…
And it’s probably tiring to be asked that constantly, but I do wonder if as a woman working in this genre you face pressure to deliver a certain kind of product.
I think there is pressure, like certainly most male directors, especially in comedy, aren’t necessarily asked to make their projects fit certain social standards. It doesn’t have to be feminist or intersectional, though I will say I don’t mind keeping those things in mind, because my personal political beliefs are to be as inclusive as possible and try to amplify the voices of the marginalized. I don’t find it to be a burden, and it’s part of why I do this. So even though men don’t have to do it and women are kind of obligated to, I also don’t mind. To me it’s part and parcel of why I make comedy in the first place.