Razor-sharp and wickedly funny, this latest iteration of David Mamet’s enduring 1974 play offers a refreshing 21st century vibe courtesy of screenwriter Leslye Headland. Ribald and endearing (not sure I’ve ever paired those terms before), it’s the perfect Valentine’s Day option for those who don’t blush easily (or don’t mind doing so).
"About Last Night" tells the tale of Danny and Debbie, two singles who meet at the local watering hole and find themselves saying good morning. While perhaps not the soundest of foundations, it sets them on a path to genuine romance, and ultimately into relationship. Where of course things turn messy.
Complicating things are loyal sidekicks Bernie and Joan, who from the start have vociferously objected to the union. For Bernie, because he’s losing his best oats-sowing wingman; for Joan, because she’s turned cynical at being the oat a few too many times and doubts Danny’s ability to stay the course; and for both, because their best friend’s new other half comes packaged with an ever-present and utterly loathsome creature, i.e., Bernie or Joan.
Dan and Deb came into being with David Mamet’s original play, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago", and continued with the well-received 1986 film adaptation by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue entitled "About Last Night…", starring Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Jim Belushi, and Elizabeth Perkins. Historically, Bernie and Joan provide the comic relief and relentless battle-of-the-sexes verbal warfare, with their last two lines hinting that perhaps all that bickering was actually leading somewhere…
Today Leslye Headland turns that combative spark on its ear to thoroughly spectacular effect. While preserving the unabashed relentless bickering, she pairs Bernie and Joan right from the start and uses them as the occasion of Danny and Debbie’s meeting.
In so doing, Headland retains both their comedic combat and constant undermining of Dan and Deb’s relationship, but adds an entire dimension to the overall tale; a dimension completely in keeping with the characters’ dynamics and the story’s underlying themes of identity, priority, perspective, maturity, forgiveness, and friendship.
Headland's expanded and extended the story without disturbing a single facet of the original script. Her screenplay is a work of art.
And none better to portray this new Bernie and Joan than Kevin Hart and Regina Hall. Their comedic timing (perhaps assisted on occasion by some stellar editing) must be seen to be believed, their chemistry so perfect that one almost wishes for a spinoff, would that not somehow diminish the magic that is this moment.
Their fire-cracker exchanges are worth twice the price of admission, and on two occasions it appears that she ad-libbed him into genuine hysterics, which in turn sets her off, and away they go; they never break character, and actually use those moments to deepen the already deceptively moving proceedings. If they’re not Golden-Globe-nominated come springtime, it’s some form of crime.
Unfortunately Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant don’t fare as well as Dan and Deb. It’s still their story, but with deliveries so shallow that but for the strength of the screenplay, we wouldn't care much. The scene at which things reach a flash point is scripted very nearly verbatim, but where we felt Lowe’s intractability and Moore’s insides being torn asunder, here it vibes like they’re shutting down a three-week fling.
Her subsequent emotional reconstruction and his transformative epiphany fall completely by the boards, but again, not for lack of scripting. Sweet budding romance flowed easily, but when it came time for emotional power, it was nowhere to be found. Alas. Just overlay Lowe and Moore, or imagine the power that should be there, and it’ll be fine.
For this reason it missed my fifth star (and likely the Desert Island status), but it’s still a romantic and comedic must-see. (Just remember what I said about that blushing thing.)
Headland’s updates for 21st century mores and environs work nicely. Set now in LA rather than Chicago (which is unfortunate; perhaps it was just easier for the production), our characters are about ten years older this time, and the surroundings reflect this well. Headland weaves technology seamlessly and to great effect, and incorporates new markers of deepening relationship such as canine co-parenting. Keep your eyes open for the affectionate homages to the predecessors.
Though its synopsis will never convey its power, "About Last Night" warms the soul, enlightens the mind, and stirs the heart. This story endures because at its foundation, regardless of time or place or custom, it’s about us humans and our frailties. These are fundamentally likable people just doing their best to stay out of their own way, repair as necessary, and be open to the reparations of others. We see ourselves in these four, and see how even the most blind and misguided behavior can lead, with honesty and some work, to one’s desired outcome. And thus we see hope.
Of course you may not realize any of this while you’re busy laughing hysterically.
Story: A sincere if arguably naïve pair attempts to take a one night stand into full relationship territory amid the strenuous warnings of each one’s disapproving sidekick.
Genre: Romance, comedy
Starring: Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant
Directed by: Steve Pink
Running time: 100 minutes
Houston release date: February 14, 2014
Tickets: Check Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings
Screened Feb 11 2014 at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX