Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: "About Last Night"

 There's a moment in "About Last Night" in which the characters are actually watching a video of the 1986 film with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, and argue about whether it's a chick flick or a guy's movie. It's a tacit but still brave acknowledgement that yes, this is a remake of a seminal '80s movie, which in turn was based on a play by David Mamet.

The new movie is funnier than the original, while still engaging in plenty of heavy moments as we explore two sets of best friends who hook up with one another on a one-night stand, and then spend the next year negotiating the treacherous territory that comes with being in a relationship -- and even debating whether they're in one.

The leading cast is gorgeous and engaging, and they're also all black, whereas the '86 cast was Caucasians. The movie uses this to its advantage without ever really getting hung up on the change in skin tone. Just as the characters quarrel fruitlessly about whether the original was primarily intended for men or women, it's wrongheaded to think of this as a "black movie," even if African-Americans are the primary targeted audience.

It's much the same way the film has switched scenery from Chicago to Los Angeles. Even though the original conception was very much about the Midwest metropolis -- Mamet's play was called "Sexuality Perversity in Chicago," after all -- the 2014 iteration gets its mood and groove from L.A.

The four main characters are all at that stage of life where they believe in working hard and playing harder, when going out to bars every night is seen as a duty, and the thought of being tied down by entanglement is anathema. It is, in other words, the life of many people in their early- to mid-20s, which Lowe and Moore were back in 1986. Here the actors are closer to 40, so their antics have a whiff of desperation about them.

Kevin Hart is seemingly everywhere these days, including riding the box office wave of "Ride Along" from just a few weeks ago. Here he's relegated to the wingman role of Bernie, an uber-confident chattermouth. His best bud is Danny (Michael Ealy), a quiet type who Bernie jokes is too good-looking to appreciate the women a guy like him has to work hard to turn into conquests.

Bernie has just landed another, Joan (Regina Hall), a bigger-than-life woman with an outsized personality and mood swings. Her roommate is Debbie (Joy Bryant), a smart businesswoman who's seemingly opted out of the romantic game. Pushed by Bernie and Joan, Danny and Debbie soon become a couple, much to the consternation of their friends, who chide them for rushing into anything serious.

The story plays out in a series of vignettes spread over the seasons -- who says "I love you" first, moving in together, holiday events blown up by jealousy, temptations from old lovers, etc. A subplot follows Danny in quitting the sales job he hates, only to end up bartending at the place owned by his deceased dad's best friend (Christopher McDonald).

This movie is sweet and cute, buoyed by Hart's frantic comedic persona. The screenplay by Leslye Headland is reminiscent of "(500) Days of Summer," and director Steve Pink keeps things loose and easy. The more dramatic sections slide in and out readily, not carrying a whole lot of emotional freight but never weighing down the proceedings too much.

Maybe in another 28 years, another remake of "About Last Night" will come, perhaps centering on Latinos in Miami, and they'll watch a snippet of this movie, and the memory will not be an unpleasant one.

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