February 13, 2014

About Last Night

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



About Last Night

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-02-14

Running Length:

1:41

MPAA Classification:

R (Sexual Content, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Michael Early, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall

Director:

Steve Pink

Screenplay:

Leslye Headland, based on the screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, based on the play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet

Cinematography:

Michael Barrett

Music:

Marcus Miller

U.S. Distributor:

Screen Gems

Subtitles:

none


About Last Night, a remake of the 1986 Edward Zwick film which was in turn an adaptation of David Mamet's play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, manages the difficult task of being faithful to the original while taking things in a new direction. The two productions have the same skeleton but the muscle and tissue are different. The departures are significant enough to allow the 2014 version to stand on its own and not feel redundant while at the same time retaining the same basic narrative trajectory. The story hasn't changed. It's still about the sexual and romantic dynamics of a couple whose best friends are against their relationship.

When Zwick made Mamet's source material the basis of his feature debut, he and screenwriters Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue incorporated significant changes. For this new interpretation, director Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) and scripter Leslye Headland have taken a page out of Zwick's playbook and moved things farther from the play. Nevertheless, the finished product is still recognizable as Sexual Perversity in Chicago (even though it's now based in Los Angeles) and the callbacks to About Last Night, including the inclusion of a film clip giving Rob Lowe and Demi Moore a cameo of sorts, are numerous. Overall, this is a more raucous, ribald, and profane interpretation. In terms of the sexual frankness of the dialogue, 2014's About Last Night makes 1986's iteration seem tame.

The central story focuses on couple Danny (Michael Early) and Debbie (Joy Bryant), who "meet cute," have a one-night stand, become "friends with benefits," fall in love, move in together, and eventually separate as romantic fatigue sets in. Their tale is interwoven with that of Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall), whose combustible sexual interaction forms a counterpoint to Danny and Debbie's more sedate relationship. These two, who fill the invaluable "sidekick" roles, have most of the best lines. Hart's Bernie is able to seamlessly meld original Mamet material with new dialogue from Headland. By design, Bernie overshadows Danny every time they're on screen together.

The aspect of About Last Night that differentiates it from the generic romantic comedy is that it goes beyond the point where the characters come together with the expectation that they will live happily ever after. That represents only the film's first act. The movie's motto might be: "Love is easy. Relationships are hard." About Last Night takes us through the Honeymoon Phase and into the difficult realm beyond. That's where couples have to work to stay together, and that's where this movie gains its strongest traction. Ultimately, this is no Blue Valentine downer but it is more true to life than, say, Sleepless in Seattle.

About Last Night is more openly comedic than its predecessor although not nearly as sexy. The erotic content of Zwick's interpretation was high - one sex scene between Lowe and Moore ranks among the hottest of the '80s. By comparison, the between-the-sheets activity of the 2014 movie, while not hidden from the camera, is more for humor than titillation. In this movie, the character talk incessantly about sex but not much is shown. There's no nudity and more is implied than depicted.

All four actors evidence great chemistry. Michael Early and Joy Bryant have the requisite sparks. Their characters' relationship shows genuine growth and development but remains low-key and comfortable. Kevin Hart, whose high-energy approach works well in this role, plays effectively off both Early and Regina Hall. For her part, Hall is a firecracker when paired with Hart and lets the green-eyed monster emerge while sharing scenes with Bryant. Pink understands that, although Hart's Bernie is the most dynamic character in the film, less can be more; his screen presence is overwhelming. Keeping Hart in a supporting role is smart because putting him front-and-center could easily lead to viewer burnout.

About Last Night is a rare remake in that it's sufficiently different in the details to make it of interest to those familiar to the earlier endeavor. This is a case of two divergent interpretations illustrating how a new director and different cast can result in an alchemy that is no less satisfying and entertaining.

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