In the first five minutes of About Last Night, we get the picture that this is going to be a bumpier ride, at least as far as Valentine’s Day–timed rom-com movies go, as it lays into a vivid and detailed he-said/she-said recounting of a sexual encounter the night before. In the first half hour of the film, we get the idea that this is also a much smarter entry in the genre, partly thanks to its strong roots, a spin-off of David Mamet’s critically noted and anti-shy 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which was then made into a film (starring Santa Barbara’s own Rob Lowe) in 1986.
Mamet himself disowned that original film, which has been further adapted, reshaped, and re-contextualized here in screenwriter Leslye Headland’s script for a quartet of African-American characters in modern-day Los Angeles, replete with that all-important contemporary touch: smartphones. And yet Mamet’s wry, salty, and eventually sentimental voice is part of what sets the new film apart and above the norm for its ilk. In this clever and uncensored farce with real-life emotionality, the balance of two couples in and out of love and lust plays out in a dramatic structure of flexible, interworking parts.
Kevin Hart portrays the fast-talking and ribald foil to his handsome, more subtle and suave friend, played by Michael Ealy, and their female counterparts roughly match the degrees of licentious humors: Regina Hall is the game and randy sparring partner for Hart’s hyper gibes, and Joy Bryant the cooler-headed, relationship-seeking professional, a good match for Ealy’s character, though not immune to the rough patches and detours that come with the territory of love. In the soundtrack, crooner John Legend lines some of the more romantic scenery, to add pop-soul coating. And why not?
Somehow, in some way, About Last Night is one of those rare movies that manage the balancing act of the warm fuzzies and the nasty scuzzies, in close proximity and interwoven as it goes. By the end, we know what hit us in terms of the old naughty/nice one-two, and it’s a mostly happy thing, at least by the modest standards of the rom-com genre.