About Last Night
This week’s Entertainment section of the newspaper must look like a reprint of years gone by what with three remakes opening all at the same time. With "Robocop" having opened on Wednesday and "Endless Love" opening on Valentine’s Day, we also have "About Last Night" - the remake of the 80’s classic comedy starring Demi Moore and Rob Lowe and based on the play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet.
Remakes are all the rage lately and the most recent have seemed to fizzle into a puddle upon impact. (I’m looking at you, "Carrie.") So it is a true pleasure to say just how engaging, insightful, and well-acted "About Last Night" really is. With an all-star African American cast, screenwriter Leslye Headland updates the tale with modern flourishes, but keeps the spirit, tone, and insight of the first intact.
Being a huge fan of the Moore/Lowe version, I wasn’t sure if this would be such a revamp that it would be unrecognizable, but in fact there are bits of dialogue that remain, scene structure that mirrors the first, even a nod to the original by having the film play on a TV in the background.
For the uninitiated, "About Last Night" concerns two single twenty-somethings; Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Danny (Michael Ealy) who meet at a bar, have a one-night stand, and think that’s the end of it. But the two have an undeniable connection and are drawn back together time and time again. The titular question here is whether this just a prolonged sexual relationship, or something more? And when do they admit it’s going somewhere serious?
The two meet because Danny’s best friend Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Debbie’s best friend Joan (Regina Hall) have met just days before and are trying out a casual relationship. The two’s chemistry is undeniable and both are believably over-the-top; everyone has that one friend that is a bit whacky (and that gives terrible advice). This is the biggest departure from the original film, where Bernie and Danny (played by Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins) hated each other at the outset and continued to despise one another throughout.
The change works beautifully as they two actors not only provide the comic relief of the film, but they portray a very specific (and very real) type of couple: The couple that drives each other absolutely crazy, yet can’t live without each other. There is a point here where these two break up and it is the dance they do throughout this separation that is hilarious and telling. Their resulting screaming matches are some of the funniest in recent years, but what makes it work is that there is compassion bubbling under the surface.
The film is split into four seasons as the two couples traverse their relationships through a yearlong period of time. Debbie and Danny go from dating casually, to making it official, moving in together, dancing around commitment and trust issues, and ultimately making a decision as to if either of them are ready for something truly serious or not. What’s wonderful about this is that there are no false notes here. The concerns and issues they encounter are honest and relatable to anyone that has ever been in a relationship. There are no machinated plot twists or cliché plot points. These are good people that have truthful problems they need to figure out. That is what makes the film so special and on point.
African American ensembles sometimes get the short shrift with either zany comedies or Tyler Perry dramas that pile on clichés and manipulations like a hoarder. It’s so nice to see great actors doing great work in a film that will appeal to all races and a variety of ages. Sure, there is some crudeness here, but the original had that too. The nice thing is that underneath it all is good-spirited fun. Even when the couples are arguing it’s not mean-spirited or cruel; it comes from an honest place of fear, anger, and jealousy. So even though Bernie can be a loud-mouthed moron, we still like him and we see why the equally loud-mouthed Joan can’t let go of him.
As directed by Steve Pink ("Hot Tub Time Machine") the film looks terrific using a Downtown Los Angeles locale to great effect. He keeps the actors down-to-earth and avoids moving into melodrama. Bryant and Ealy are a lovely couple and bring depth and compassion to their roles. Here’s hoping we see more of them on the big screen as both are currently mainly on TV. (Ealy is on "Almost Human" and Bryant is on "Parenthood.") Kevin Hart is usually not my cup of tea, but I found him funny and a terrific foil for Regina Hall, who I adored.
For those fearful that the filmmakers might have wrecked a classic, have no fear. It’s as close to the original as it should be for a film that’s nearly 30 years old, and respectful of how good a movie it was to begin with. "About Last Night" is about as pleasant a surprise as you could have.