"How ‘About Last Night’ Explains The Key To Kevin Hart’s Rise As A Movie Star"
CREDIT: Screen Gems
About Last Night, a remake of the 1986 movie of the same name, which is itself an adaptation of David Mamet’s 1974 stage play Sexual Perversity In Chicago, is a somewhat flimsy romantic comedy that’ll probably do decent box office this weekend among couples looking for increasingly rare date movies. The script, from Leslye Headland, who wrote the similarly uneven Bachelorette, doesn’t always give us enough to ground the decisions two couples are making as they move from one-night stands towards more serious commitments. But in one respect, About Last Night is worth checking out even if you don’t need to make a romantic trip to the box office: it’s a very clear example of what’s propelling comedian Kevin Hart’s rise as a movie star.
The film follows two sets of friends who stumble into complicated relationships. Bernie (Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) decide they want to give each other a go after a wild one-night stand, and for their first official date, bring their friends Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Parenthood‘s Joy Bryant) along to lubricate the conversation. It’s an awkward set-up, and an awkward foursome: Bernie and Joan are ready to fall into bed again, while both Danny and Debbie, naturally quieter than their friends, are still healing from bad breakups. But their attraction to each other is undeniable, and at first, Danny and Debbie’s caution seems like it’s going to be the foundation of a stable and serious relationship. As Bernie and Joan’s chemistry explodes and then fizzles into bitter recrimination, Danny and Debbie move in together, and even get a dog.
The characters’ conversations about sex are frank and often funny. But at times, it seems like Danny and Debbie, meant to be the more realistic couple in the movie, are making decisions less because it’s a natural outgrowth of where they are in their relationship than because the movie needs them to. “I just feel adults don’t have roommates. They live with their significant others,” Debbie tells Joan when she decides to decamp for Danny’s apartment, which has to be the least romantic or emotionally grounded rationale for cohabitation to pop up in the movies in quite some time. Danny quits his job as a beverage supplier because his boss (Joe Lo Truglio) wants him to collect from a client who is a long-time friend of Danny’s family, a gesture that’s meant to be noble, but that comes across as petulant, and mostly seems to happen so their relationship can be endangered by Danny’s joblessness.
Bernie and Joan are outright cartoons, in contrast to their more understated friends (“I’m not really boring. I just pretend to be so she can be the crazy one,” Debbie tells Danny on their first meeting). But that characterization means that About Last Night can suspend the laws of logic and plausibility a bit when it comes to their storyline, and just let Hart and Hall stage ferocious, filthy, and frequently hilarious arguments. Joan, unfortunately, tips over into shrewishness a bit too often, though even then, there’s at least some lingering comedic effect. “You choose me, or you choose your family and heritage,” she tells Debbie of the ultimatum she offered to Bernie, who in trying to get her to dump him, lied to her and said he was Jewish and needed to be with a Jew long-term. “And he chose 3,000 years of beautiful tradition?” Debbie asks, making Joan look ridiculous.
But Bernie’s another entry in what’s becoming Hart’s signature supporting man turn in romantic comedies: he’s a guy who desperately insists that he wants nothing more than to be a louche player, but turns out to be lying to himself, with all the contradictions and complications that entails. He goads Danny about taking Debbie home from on he first night they meet, exhorting him to “Turn her out! Make her feel things!” declaring that he and Joan “saved the world last night!” He’s disdainful of models, and worshipful of a woman with an ample posterior. After their breakup, Bernie goads Joan by bringing another woman to the Thanksgiving dinner Danny and Debbie are throwing for them. He gets pugnacious with her date at another party. Bernie’s player persona, it turns out, is preventing him from making a graceful transition to the monogamy he badly wants.
The confirmed bachelor who meets the woman of his dreams has long been a staple of romantic comedies, of course. Vince Vaughn’s turn as a player who falls for an outrageously sexually adventurous woman in Wedding Crashers is one of the great recent examples of the trope. But Hart doubles down on the utter immaturity of the man who refuses to be tied down, and then brings an utter shamelessness to that character’s sudden reversal of convictions. It’s very funny watching him tell Debbie that he and Joan are moving in together, just as he temporarily stole an ensemble film as a man separated from his wife who finally confesses how badly he wants her back in Think Like A Man. Not only is this a trope that plays to Hart’s motormouth comedic strengths from his stand-up act, but it gets at a larger truth than any of the other ones About Last Night tries to express. Sometimes the love you want to grow up for does sneak up on you all at once. And you’re not always ready to accept it with ease or dignity.