Silver Screen: About Last Night ***1/2
Director and frequent John Cusack cohort Steve Pink has a better time with a much more reasonable big-screen adaptation with About Last Night, which is not so much based on David Mamet’s arch battle-of-the-sexes comedy Sexual Perversity in Chicago as it is based on the movie based on Mamet’s play.
Edward Zwick already processed and pasteurized the brash Sexual Perversity into the significantly more mainstream-friendly About Last Night... back in 1986, starring Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and James Belushi. Pink and screenwriter Leslye Headland adapt that adaptation, dropping the ellipsis from the title, minimizing the perversity, and moving the action to Los Angeles. The most immediately obvious change is the shift to an all African American cast, although that change is insubstantial. There are no racial politics at play, just the men-versus-women sexual dynamics familiar to most rom-coms, but its fairly well-executed by an especially talented, attractive cast.
Kevin Hart and Michael Ealy costar as Bernie and Danny, best pals who work for a restaurant-supply distributor. Bernie’s girlfriend Joan sets Danny up on a double-date with her straightlaced roommate Debbie (Joy Bryant), and much to everyone’s surprise, the two hook up. A one-night stand begets a serious relationship, one seemingly more stable than the explosively passionate one between the boorish Bernie and temperamental Joan.
About Last Night is concerned with balance— between men and women, passion and sensibility, love and career. What traces remain of Mamet’s sharp, profanity-laced dialogue are modern but by now plenty familiar, while its rom-com structure seems almost old-fashioned. But that old formula worked for a reason, and though Pink does little to innovate it, he injects it with fresh energy, especially in the film’s first half, which moves at a livewire pace.
A movie like About Last Night succeeds or fails based mostly on the merits of the leads. The script is decent, and Pink brings a nice if generically romantic aesthetic to L.A.— this Los Angeles is all nighttime cocktail parties, no graffiti or bodegas or gridlock on the 405— but it’s the quartet of actors who push it over the top.
Hart is the movie’s comedic engine. He gets two lines to everybody else’s one, if only because he’s speaking at twice the speed of the other leads. His motormouthed charisma is firmly established, and he puts it to nice use here. It’s a lot for Hall to keep up with, but she’s game. Joan is all eye rolls and attitude, and she and Bernie have a believably antagonistic relationship, although the broader moments occasionally clash with the relatively toned-down script. (Two words: Chicken mask.)
Ealy and Bryant could easily get lost in the shuffle as the more conventional couple, but they don’t let the more forceful Hart and Hall steal too many scenes. It doesn’t hurt that they’re both astonishingly good-looking. Ealy is an especially charismatic straight man, grounded but still good with a joke, and throughout their coming together and breaking apart, paired off in various combinations, the four leads maintain that steady balance throughout. Hollywood doesn’t make romantic comedies for grownups like this too often anymore; maybe if more of them were this much fun, they’d be more frequent.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.