Reel Women: Why ‘Best Night Ever’ Is Bad For Women (and Everyone)
Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer -- better known for their spoof comedies like 'Meet the Spartans' and the recent 'Hunger Games' riff, 'The Starving Games' -- try their hand at found footage with 'Best Night Ever,' an attempt to level the gender playing field with a plot similar to 'The Hangover.' Rather than follow around a quartet of men on their outlandish adventures through Vegas, however, the film follows a quartet of women on one wild and crazy evening as they celebrate their BFF's last night of freedom. The end result is a clumsy, often tedious chore of a film that tries too hard to prove that women can be just as raunchy as men. Yes, ladies, we can all relax now: sexism has been solved.
'Best Night Ever' suffers from many problems on a basic filmmaking level, primarily the needless found-footage angle, which serves little purpose beyond a cheap (both financial and commercial) gimmick. But the biggest issues lie within Friedberg and Seltzer's sexist attempt to hop aboard the female comedy train, following better films like 'Bridesmaids' (the obvious predecessor) and 'Bachelorette.'
The film follows nice girl Claire, her uptight sister, and her two rowdier friends as they travel to Vegas for her bachelorette party, which starts as a conservative evening and becomes the 30-something version of 'Spring Breakers,' if 'Spring Breakers' were made for the kind of women who frequently visit male strip clubs -- or Friedberg and Seltzer's idea of those kinds of women, anyhow.
As if to further entice female viewers, there's plenty of male nudity on display, from guy flashing (and bouncing) his testicles via drive-by to shots of abs, and even a black male stripper, whose penis is conspicuously blurred out and covered with a black censor strip, as if to insinuate that his member is too much for us to handle. Meanwhile, white male penises are fully displayed at will, further reinforcing the fetishization and stereotyping of black manhood.
The women become increasingly vulgar as the night wears on, but female vulgarity isn't an issue: it's the senseless nature of it that's a problem. The way Friedberg and Seltzer use lines like, "My G-string feels like a slip 'n' slide," feel forced and further position this film as a no-effort cut-and-paste job -- as if taking something that works as "male comedy," like 'The Hangover,' and putting women in the same situations will somehow convince the audience that, yes, women can be and are as raunchy as men? What we need in film is for women to be represented as equals to their male counterparts, not for them to be represented as equally exaggerated cartoon versions of their worst male counterparts. Simply having a woman behave in a way that's not conventionally ladylike doesn't automatically make her funny or subvert gender stereotypes. There's nothing clever to that. You can't just have a female character empty her bowels on someone (as 'Best Night Ever' does, and you see all of it) and call it gender equality, or even comedy for that matter.
Where 'Bridesmaids' and 'Bachelorette' succeed is in creating relatable characters. 'Bridesmaids' may have moments of gross-out humor, outlandish acts, cringe-worthy or jaw-dropping dialogue, but it has characters and stories who are ultimately empathetic, if not always sympathetic. Ditto for 'Bachelorette,' which skews to the darker side of humor and whose characters are much less sympathetic, but who ultimately reveal sides of themselves that explain why they're so difficult.
'Best Night Ever' isn't interested in any of this. It's a female road trip raunch-fest with character moments and female bonding as seen through the eyes of two men who haven't the slightest clue of what women are really like. Claire's sister is uptight and has never learned to take care of herself, living off of her husband's dime, so she has no idea what to do when they're all robbed at gunpoint by a valet. Janet, the film's stand-in for a Melissa McCarthy or Wendi McLendon-Covey type, casually spouts crass phrases seemingly to fill dead air and get an "Oh no she didn't" reaction from the audience. Furthermore, the film's idea of female bonding is having the girls hide in the dumpster (from police, who could help them after they've been robbed, but one of them has an outstanding warrant -- this is an actual plot point) and sing 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up" to calm down. Later in the film, a naked, overweight black woman is used -- extensively -- for laughs, and called back when the women rewind their video to see some of what transpired the night before.
'Best Night Ever' is supposed to be a film about women and for women, but it's just not good for anyone. It's a frustrating experience that proves that we need more female voices writing and directing films, especially ones about women. Instead we have these two clowns showing us their perception of how women behave when we're supposedly equal to men. This notion that gender equality is about trying to raise women up to the same level as men or trying to prove that they're as good as, as bad as, or as any other adjective as men is just plain sexist. I'm all for women behaving badly (whether it's being foul-mouthed, raunchy, or just plain being bad) because to have real equality in cinema, we need films that treat women like real people, not films that treat women like we should be perfect all the damn time. But what we don't need is a movie that teaches us that if a woman takes a crap on some guy's face or gets drunk and acts like the shallow jerks in the 'Hangover' movies, that's equality. I won't be thankful for it.