About Last Night follows the exploits of friends Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Danny (Michael Ealy), who become romantically entangled with roommates Joan (Regina Hall) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) – starting with a volatile spark between Bernie and Joan, which inadvertently ignites a serious fire between Danny and Debbie.
However, lighting a fire is one thing; keeping it burning is a much bigger commitment. As the seasons turn, each couple has to go through the ups and downs – and ugly ins and outs – of love, sex and relationship-building, as those “about last night” experiences begin to weigh on the prospects for lasting love.
Based on the 1974 stage play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by David Mamet – and the 1986 film About Last Night… starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore - About Last Night (2014) is a largely familiar adult-themed romantic comedy – and one that barely justifies its existence as a feature-film rather than a stage show. The two distinguishing factors that boost the movie are the sharp script by Leslye Headland and a solid blend of over-the-top energy and slow-burn understated chemistry shared amongst the principal cast members.
Director Steve Pink (High Fidelity, Hot Tub Time Machine) is custom-equipped for a film like this; he smartly treats the material like its stage play inspirations, segmenting the film into a serious of dialogue scenes with some slapstick physical comedy peppered in for good measure. The direction is uncomplicated, with a very basic tactic of letting the camera linger as the actors work out each scene. There are a few moments of cinematic flourish here and there, but clearly the emphasis is put on realizing the substance of the material, rather than the style of presenting it, visually.
That stripped-down approach creates the necessary fly-on-the-wall vantage point for the viewer, with only a few moments of distraction when Pink frames his actors in constricting close-up or shoots certain moments in dark clubs and such using grainy digital cameras. All-in-all though, the film carves out a nice slice of LA yuppie living and then allows some colorful characters (no pun) to populate it. Thankfully, the ride is engaging and energetic for most of the scenes; since this is essentially a series of dialogues, whenever the film drags or the dialogue falls flat, it’s a pretty sharp downturn in the viewing experience.
Leslye Headland’s previous work (Bachelorette, Terriers) is known for its razor-sharp dialogue and walk-the-line black comedy, and she manages to turn Mamet’s rumination on sex and relationships – as well as the script for the ’86 film by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue – into an authentic (if at times exaggerated) reflection of modern-day sexual politics. She also manages to use the Danny/Debbie relationship as a pretty solid springboard for more earnestness exploration of the emotional vulnerability and challenges that come with relationships.
What’s different about Headland’s script are the subtle twists that make both the raunch-comedy and emotional halves feel somewhat fresh in execution – though they are undeniably traditional in design. The original play was meant to chronicle the relationship issues of the 1970s – which should give you all the explanation you need for why even an updated take on the material adheres to a romantic comedy formula that is by now cliché. The story starts in summer and runs through the following spring, and the beats of this progression are predictable down to the on-the-nose metaphors for how the respective seasons match up to the different stages of a relationship.
The principal cast is what propels the film over its major shortcomings, with four actors split into two equally adept teams, carrying two very different sets of responsibilities. Kevin Hart and Regina Hall provide the overwhelming majority of the comedy – both verbal and physical – with over-the-top performances that provide the film with a shot of life anytime the pair (or just one of them) are onscreen. Hart is definitely in his prime at the moment, and can seemingly do no wrong here – but Scary Movie alum Regina Hall proves to possess just as much comedic ammunition. Whether in screaming matches or bizarre sexcapades, both actors totally commit to the bit each and every time, and the results are pretty entertaining.
Michael Ealy (Almost Human) and Joy Bryant (Parenthood) have to carry the dramatic end of the film, and they do so with a surprisingly tender and charming dramatic arc, bolstered by some great chemistry. Whether it’s the words of the script, a rapport with the actors, or a combination of both, Ealy and Bryant affect a naturalism in their romantic interactions that makes them totally relatable as a couple. This subsequently makes the Danny/Debbie drama easy to invest in, and thanks to the authentic voice beneath the comedic hijinks in Headland’s script, the characters’ choices and developments feel closer to real-world experience than the contrivances of your average romantic movie.
In the end, About Last Night isn’t a movie one would necessarily need to rush out to a theater to see, but it is definitely something more unique than your average rom-com flick – even if only marginally so. On a more practical note: if you are an adult and appreciate more adult romantic fare, this is definitely the better Valentine’s Day date movie for you to see. There is enough good material here for both parties to have a good laugh and a warm tender moment before they leave the theater – and for the growing legion of Kevin Hart fans, it will be an especially fun romp.
About Last Night is now playing in theaters. It is Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use.