About this remake: Fresh humor balances romantic comedy clichés
Hollywood is big on remakes these days; this week alone, three updates of 1980s movies have opened (RoboCop on Wednesday, and Endless Love and About Last Night today). Whether there is a lack of decent original screenplays right now, or whether aging Gen X studio execs are nostalgic for the stories of their formative days is hard to say, but the phenomenon does beg the question of whether these remakes need to be made at all, and, more importantly, whether they are any good in their own right. The new About Last Night is a particularly special case, since it is not only a remake of a film, but is also a remake of a film based on a play, which makes the new version especially far removed from its source material. Does that matter? Fortunately, in this case, not so much. Director Steven Pink, who apparently has a fondness for the 1980s (he directed the very funny ’80s time travel movie Hot Tub Time Machine) has tweaked the material enough to make his new version modern, fresh, and very funny.
For those who missed the 1986 original, it was based on David Mamet’s 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a searing look at the sex lives of two male and two female friends in 1970s Chicago. The 1986 version, featuring Brat Pack stars-of-the-day Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, along with Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins, softened Mamet’s story somewhat, although that film did retain much of his famously clipped, harsh dialog. Pink’s new version goes even further astray, moving away from Mamet’s original language, and turning Mamet’s somewhat hopeless commentary on relations between the sexes into a full-blown romantic comedy, albeit one with an exceedingly high raunch factor, which provides a comic balance to the overt sweetness. And in a clever wink to his source material, Pink includes a scene in which two characters watch the 1986 version on TV, as well as another scene in which one of his characters drops the line, “Here’s to another night of sexual perversity in Los Angeles.” You have to give Pink credit for slyly honoring his predecessors.
Indeed, In Pink’s film, the setting has been moved from Chicago to present day Los Angeles, and the key players are now comedian Kevin Hart as hard-partying, commitment-phobe Bernie, Michael Ealy as his more serious work buddy Danny, Regina Hall as the acerbic Joan, and Joy Bryant as Joan’s roommate and best friend Debbie, a hard-working, homebody type. You can probably guess who pairs up with whom among these four; the ups and downs of each couple’s initial hook up and subsequent attempts at creating committed relationships are explored – often hilariously – during the course of the movie. A scene in which Joan and Bernie negotiate the evening’s bedroom activities is particularly inspired, and a Thanksgiving scene in which underlying jealousies and seething resentments are on the menu is well executed and comically brilliant.
Tonally, the picture feels a bit like Nora Ephron meets There’s Something About Mary. All the romantic comedy tropes are there (pop-music scored montages of the men playing racquetball and downing shots, while the women commiserate over spoonfuls of Nutella and madly ride exercise bikes), but the sappiness is balanced a bit by the very funny screenplay by Tim Kazuriksy, Denise DeClue, and Leslye Headland. The frank way the men and women talk to each other about their sex lives is raw and, yes, often raunchy, but, as such, rings true, even if that means some of the banter between the men is borderline misogynistic. Thinking such conversations don’t happen in real life is probably naïve, though, and, at least here, you can tell the bravado is just that, as both Ealy and Hart do a terrific job conveying the insecurities and deeper feelings masked by their ribald banter.
Hart, who is a well known comedian, is by far the brightest of the four leads, bringing energy and warmth to his role as ladies-man Bernie, who is surprised – and somewhat horrified – to find himself having deeper feelings for Regina Hall’s Joan. Hart and Hall are nicely matched, and their electric chemistry and spirited repartee are reminiscent of the best classic movie couples, like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Cher and Nicolas Cage, or Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.
Ealy and Bryant as the more staid Danny and Debbie don’t fare as well; yes, their characters are the more serious of the four, but that doesn’t mean the actors have to imbue them with such dull sensibility. Bryant, a regular on TV’s Parenthood, is particularly one note; you can tell someone in her career has told her she looks cute when she widens her eyes and opens her mouth slightly, trying to look both sweet and sexy. Unfortunately this expression is her default for pretty much the entire film, – whether she’s playing amused or angry – and it quickly becomes distracting and annoying. Ealy, as the relatively straight man to Hart’s more over-the-top Bernie, doesn’t get much to do besides mope around about Debbie, and his personality is never fleshed out enough to make us see why Debbie is so drawn to him. A side story involving Danny helping his deceased father’s best friend (of course) grow his business feels tacked on, with its sole purpose seemingly to show that Danny is A Good Guy.
By the end of the picture, you may need a tissue to wipe the sentimental tears from the screen, but that layer of schmaltz is forgivable given the good time Pink shows us as we get there. As far as remakes go, sure, this one may not have been absolutely necessary, but its fresh angle and honest take on modern relationships make it worth seeing nonetheless.
About Last Night opens in Bay Area theaters today.
And just for fun (because you know you’re curious… ) here’s the trailer for the original 1986 version: