About Last Night (2014)

24 Feb

IF

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“About Last Night” is a modern update of the 1986 romantic comedy of the same name, which in itself was an adaptation of the play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet. And while you can hardly hear Mamet’s dialogue for a majority of this remake, I’d have to say this new film is just as good as the original. It’s good for the reasons the play and the 1986 movie are good. It’s still an effective, sometimes funny story that examines the sex lives of two men and two women. The play looked at it from the 1970s; the movie from the 1980s; and now this one looks at it from the 2010s.

There are notable differences here. For one, this film takes place in Los Angeles instead of Chicago (though one of the characters goes to Chicago for a work trip at some point). For another, the cast is mostly comprised of African-American actors, including comedian Kevin Hart and comedienne Regina Hall. And another notable difference is the tone that the film is going for, particularly in the ending. Mamet in his play didn’t see any hope for his characters, as the men and women just weren’t meant to be because they had so much trouble relating to each other no matter how hard they may have tried. Here, there are troubles among the characters and they are presented well, but it ends on a note that is much more hopeful than sorrowful, to say the least.

The film stars Michael Ealy and Kevin Hart as Danny and Bernie, best friends living in L.A. Bernie is a loudmouth horndog who is always looking for action, while Danny is looking for something more. When Bernie brings his date, Joan (Regina Hall), who in turn brings her roommate, Debbie (Joy Bryant), for a double-date, Danny and Debbie hit it off really well and become friends-with-benefits. But soon enough, they accept who they are as a couple, she moves in with him, and the rest of the film is about how everything they like about each other will grow tiresome and lead to romantic weariness.

The story is interwoven with the comedic subplot involving the relationship between Bernie and Joan. After a few nights together, Joan can’t stand him anymore and mostly tries to make sure she never sees him again. But when they do see each other, she goes out of her way to make sure he’s as uncomfortable as she is.

The strangest and yet most intriguing about the film’s writing, dialogue-wise, is that the lines are technically still recalling Mamet, but most of the dialogue is updated and melded with new dialogue by writer Leslye Headland. It’s funny listening to Kevin Hart seamlessly blend Mamet with Headland as he spews the film’s best lines with the comedian’s usual trademark quickness.

“About Last Night” makes a statement about how relationships are even harder to understand than love itself. With love, there’s the belief from one or both of the characters that they will live a very happy life together with no complications in the future. But once the Honeymoon Phase is complete, there’s the challenging world of working to stay together and trying to find compromise. This is where the film really works, when Danny and Debbie reach the point where they wonder if they deserve each other anymore. Can they make it work? Will they make it work? It’s not as easy as it may seem in most romantic comedies.

Now, granted, this film isn’t much of a downer and it offers more happy hopes than it should. But it is more accurate than most romantic-comedies because it doesn’t give contrived misunderstandings or other sorts of clichés that cause rough patches to happen. Even in a scene in which Danny’s ex-wife (Paula Patton), when you’re praying that it won’t go in the direction it should go, it manages to answer that prayer by giving a low-key, true-to-life payoff.

Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant make an engaging couple and they each share convincing chemistry with Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, as well as with each other. Hart is very good here as Bernie who is the romcom-sidekick who spews bad advice to the main character sometimes, but learns a thing or two about love and relationships himself. He also has the funniest lines in the movie. And then there’s Regina Hall as Joan. This was the actress and character I never got into. First of all, Hall overdoes it, even in the less comedic moments. Sometimes I found her funny but other times I found her annoying. And also, I never got into the plight of her character, because she’s a conniving bitch. Now, I know that could be because she’s secretly jealous, but she’s too much of a mess for me to care about her, and I think that might be because of the way Hall plays it as well.

Aside from my problems with Hall and some unevenness with the film’s tone, “About Last Night” is a worthy remake that keeps true to the original’s theme while changing details to make it modern while no less satisfying.

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