“Rough Night” has its theatrical debut on June 16, and already its director/co-writer Lucia Aniello has made history. She’s the first female director at the helm of an R-rated studio comedy in almost 20 years. It’s something that’s both incredible and insane to mull over, and one that shouldn’t be a huge feat, and it’s that fact that has Aniello hoping to move the needle further for women storytellers.
The hilarious comedy has all the ingredients to be an outrageously fun ride. It features an all-star cast including Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz, Jillian Bell and “Broad City’s” Ilana Glazer, and yes there’s drugs, one dead stripper and huge laughs but at the center of this “rough night," Aniello grounds these three-dimensional characters with warmth and emotional turmoil as it explores the importance of female bonds and the evolution of a decade-long friendship.
amNewYork spoke with the director about her studio debut and Scarlett Johansson’s comedic turn.
This is the first R-rated studio comedy directed by a woman in almost 20 years. What does that even feel like?
Honestly, it’s a little bit exciting because it’s like, “Okay. Let’s change it up. Here we go!” But on the other hand, it’s sad because a lot of my favorite movies are directed by women. It is a little disheartening to hear that there has been few and far between but I hope that in any small way I can help turn the tide.
When you see women up on screen having their own agency, whether it’s a comedy or an action film, I think it moves the needle a bit. When you wrote this film did you think it would have this kind of life?
Not necessarily. Paul [W. Downs] and I wrote it originally just because we wanted to make a movie in between seasons of “Broad City.” We wrote it with a smaller scale in mind, just assuming that we would have to Kickstart-it or make it for a small amount of money. When things moved and we sold it, we really got a budget behind it, so it was exciting that we got to have more access and really make the movie the way it ultimately should have been made.
In comedies, specifically those that involve women, it’s very rare to see female voices triumph without the backdrop of a guy waiting in the wings to save the day. Did you have those tropes in mind when you were writing it?
Definitely. We were well aware of all the tropes of a bachelorette-party movie and all those kinds of things that have been done in media a ton of times. It did feel like we hadn’t seen it done in a hyper-grounded realistic way with women who had deeply grounded emotional stories.
A lot of the women in the cast have backgrounds in improv. Did you get to play around with that?
Yeah, we were able to have a little bit of improvising and a little bit of fun. At the end of the day, it was more about the girls making it their own moreso than fully improvising, but there’s definitely a few lines in there that they improvised.
So many people see a virtually all-female cast and want to label it as something or put it in a specific box. Films like “Bridesmaids” and “Bachelorette” received similar treatment even though they’re both unique in their own ways. Are you open to having those comparisons?
I’m open to it but it is interesting that people aren’t saying to Adam Sandler, “Oh, Will Ferrell’s movie comes out in two months, how do you feel about that?” It doesn’t ever really happen to men but if people want to make those comparisons then so be it, that’s fine. It does seem like it’s something that is only done to women. I’m hoping we can get female comedy to the same place where we can be unabashed and do what feels right, what feels funny, and what feels good — but we’re not there yet.
Do you often have that conversation with your colleagues about the limitations of this industry?
Not necessarily. Most of my colleagues and I are too busy making things to have the conversation about our limitations. I certainly know that they definitely exist just by looking at the statistics from the Geena Davis Institute. When you look at those numbers on paper, you realize those problems are a lot bigger than you might assume.
This film would have looked completely different if it was directed by a man. You have Scarlett Johansson who is incredibly talented, but her presence in some films encapsulates the male gaze. In this film, she’s owning herself in a way that many audiences haven’t seen from her in a role.
Yeah, she’s in this as a comedic performer. She’s really funny and she’s also really real. She’s really sympathetic and vulnerable. Like you said, it’s a really great showcase of her ability to do those things, which is great because she’s such a brilliant actress. It’s great to see more of that from her in this.