About Last Night (R)
Nearly 30 years removed from the baggage of being a considerably softened adaptation of a characteristically caustic David Mamet play (Sexual Perversity in Chicago) and a vehicle for two of the '80s era's young, media-hyped "Brat Pack" stars, a fresh viewing of 1986's About Last Night... reveals Edward Zwick's debut feature to be ripe and relevant for remaking. Dated duds and 'dos aside, the film is still an often funny but, above all, a surprisingly smart and perceptive examination of the fine lines between good sex and true love, sexual attraction and genuine affection, and how--regardless of age--those lines can be all too easily, bewilderingly blurred. A contemporary take on the material could easily be done with minimal alteration, for the issues, attitudes, and conflicts it addresses are still very much of the moment.
Accordingly, for their 2014 version, director Steve Pink and screenwriter Leslye Headland are very faithful to their source material, lifting a number of memorable lines from Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue's 1986 script verbatim and also duplicating many of the finer points of its main plot arc's progression. How the one-night stand between restaurant supply firm rep Danny (Michael Ealy, filling Rob Lowe's part) and ad exec Debbie (Joy Bryant, taking over from Demi Moore) that grows--or is it forced?--into a deeper commitment, much to the chagrin of their respective best friends Bernie (Kevin Hart, in for James Belushi) and Joan (Regina Hall, in for Elizabeth Perkins), progresses much as it did 28 years ago. But that this film's title is About Last Night, without the elipsis, is a subtle and sly tipoff to how Pink and Headland have their cake and eat it too, both remaining true to the earlier film and also giving their version its own distinctive identity--and the latter all boils down to one key deviation: romantically/sexually linking the constantly bickering Bernie and Joan. As such, with equal attention and weight are now lent to what were initially mere wisecracking sounding boards for the leads, this film has a more pronounced comedic flavor as well as balance. Sober, thoughtful drama is still mined from how Danny and Debbie devolve the harder they try to play the part of a stable, cohabiting pair, but the on-again/off-again, love/hate, fuck-on/FUCK OFF! between this Bernie and Joan adds a clear counterpoint to address additional relationship issues in a contrasting context, with a lighter but still believable touch, and adding a backbone of real emotional fire to their frequent verbal tussles (and giving the character of Joan concrete motivation for her bitter cynicism).
Some smaller shifts made by Pink and Headland don't work quite as well, namely touches that turn the far more theatrically-rooted original into something more conventionally "movie," such as ex-lovers coming out of the proverbial woodwork to rock the boat, and obvious antics with a pet dog. But such bumps are easily smoothed over by the incredibly appealing actors and the effortless chemistry between them. Ealy (easily several steps up from Lowe's lightweight weak link in the original) and Bryant make for a sincere and relatable pairing that one roots for even when their characters don't even root for it themselves. If those two are consistently likable, then Hart and Hall are downright lovable, their individual live wire comic energies even further elevated in the face of a formidable foil--and that resulting charge also translates into an appropriately volatile and exciting erotic electricity that makes the wrongness of Bernie and Joan's coupledom feel so right. Their mix of charm and bite, laughs and honest warmth sums up why the whole of About Last Night feels so right.