It's no secret that we get our fair share of remakes in a given year—usually one or two per month on average. But I can't be the only one who finds it the strangest of coincidences that we have three remakes of classic (in the loosest sense of the word, in at least one case) 1980s films in the same week. The cynical among us may see these redos as simply a cash grab based on a famous title, but those who actually pay attention recognize that some of these movies are actually solidly done, whether they strip the original down to the studs and rebuild, or if they remain fairly faithful to the source material.
The original ABOUT LAST NIGHT... film, starring Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, directed by Edward Zwick, was itself based on the David Mamet play "Sexual Perversity In Chicago." Both were sexual frank, honest looks at modern relationships in which the two lead characters, Debbie and Danny, could never quite meet in the middle (except in bed). The film was released in the summer just before I left my mid-Atlantic hometown for college just outside of Chicago, so the story of this couple seemed to me like both a blueprint for how to begin a healthy relationship and a cautionary tale illustrating all the ways you could really screw up a good thing.
Leaving all the names and some of the dialogue intact, but relocating to Los Angeles, this new ABOUT LAST NIGHT (minus the ellipsis in the title) is largely faithful to the spirit of what has come before, but makes the risky choice of turning Debbie (Joy Bryant, currently on "Parenthood") and Danny's (Michel Ealy, currently on "Almost Human") respective best friends (Joan and Bernie, played by Regina Hall and Kevin Hart) into a second couple, used for even more for comic relief than Elizabeth Perkins and Jim Belushi, who were more like fierce rivals in the first film.
Enough comparing to the original movie. This ABOUT LAST NIGHT strikes a nice balance between portrait of a mostly compatible couple on the rise through enough rough patches that threaten to tear them apart before they really settle into each other. Ealy and Bryant are a damn handsome couple, but they're also versatile enough as actors to handle some truly heartbreaking moments that are occasionally difficult to watch. Neither is made out to be the good one or the bad one, but I'm guessing men and women are going to choose sides rather quickly as tensions build and people make mistakes (or nearly do).
Director Steve Pink (ACCEPTED, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE) shows he can handle the more serious materials, something he's never really had to in his previous works, and he treats the drama here with as much respect and credibility as it deserves. If you're in a relationship now, rest assured: this film will likely result in a few discussions on the car ride home.
As I mentioned, the biggest shift from the source material is turning Joan and Bernie into a volatile, on-again/off-again couple who are as vicious when they are at war as they are freaky in bed when they are in lust for each other. A veteran of the SCARY MOVIE franchise and several other broad comedies, Hall is one of the few comedic actresses I've ever seen go toe-to-toe with Kevin Hart in terms of both words per minute and raw number of jokes that land. She, Hart and Ealy are all veterans of the surprise 2012 hit THINK LIKE A MAN (they also star in its sequel, coming in June), and that was really the first time Hall and Hart displayed something of a deft touch for getting the heart of relationship pain using their comedic gifts. I'm not sure exactly what we're supposed to learn from Joan and Bernie in ABOUT LAST NIGHT—beyond proof that opposites attract—but they are good together.
The only thing I truly question about ABOUT LAST NIGHT is its setting. Mamet's play and Zwick's film were not just set in Chicago, but in so many ways embodied a Midwestern approach to dating, which always felt more organic. It was more about hanging out than going out and being seen. As portrayed in films at least, the dating scene in Los Angeles always gave off a more polished, flashier vibe. In Chicago, Danny and Debbie go to sports bars; in Los Angeles, the clubs and bars look are immaculate and the clientele are flawless and sparkly. That being said, I liked that none of the four leads worked in the entertainment industry.
In the end, ABOUT LAST NIGHT fails or succeeds based on two things: the chemistry of the two couples, which is there, and the relevancy of the insight into relationships, which works less frequently but still manages to dish out a few keenly observed revelations, thanks to a probing screenplay by Leslye Headland (BACHELORETTE). If nothing else, the film is a prime example of a smart, talented group of actors taking a serviceable script and elevating it to a place where both men and women may benefit from its musings, making for a more bearable date night.