Would it be insensitive to suggest that, ever since Tyler Perry came to the scene, every Hollywood production targeting African Americans has looked pretty much the same? I haven’t seen them all, obviously, but it seems that, whereas white folk are allowed to enjoy super-hero flicks, historical dramas, slashers, slapstick parodies, and whatever else comes to mind, black people are assumed to only like that one type of comedy, wherein an urban community comes together to crack wise about the opposite sex, friendship, loyalty, and taking responsibility.
Steve Pink’s About Last Night is not one such movie. Based on a 1986 dramedy starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, which itself was adapted from the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the film follows two lovers in Los Angeles as they mate, move in together, and eventually drive each other nuts, owing to unreasonable societal expectations. Don’t expect the same old fluffy rom-com formula. This motion picture aims to unearth deep-seeded sources of resentment in your relationship.
Cramming a year’s worth of emotional rollercoaster in a hundred minutes is no easy task, but About Last Night keeps us apprised of its accelerated timeline by linking the evolution of its main couple to the four seasons, starting, of course, with hot and sweaty summer. It’s a clever conceit that keeps exposition to a minimum, and I congratulate Pink, along with screenwriter Leslye Headland, for sidestepping the endless string of musical montages that made up three quarters of the original.
Another improvement on the eighties film lies in the casting of the leads, Danny and Debbie. Michael Ealy is perfect as an introverted idealist who finds life more challenging than his good looks and charming demeanour would have us believe. Joy Briant gives a similarly nuanced performance, conveying a warm, confident adult torn between her romantic wants and the responsibility to “have it all”. Every moment their characters spend together in About Last Night rings true, from their first kiss to their first fight to the smitten grin on her face when he explains that, at baseball games, he always sits in the bleachers to honour his father.
When our heroes’ relationship starts to deteriorate, we feel genuinely hurt not because of some weird obsession with happy endings but because we relate to their troubles. As a result, the movie’s final scene comes off a bit murky in terms of what lesson we’re meant to derive from it, but then that’s what happens when filmmakers dare to tackle complex human issues. In fact, if you were to poll the audience as to Danny and Debbie’s ailment in About Last Night, you’d probably get a half dozen different answers, each as personal as it is insightful.
For my money, our main boy in About Last Night tends to project his own feelings of inadequacy onto his partners, while our leading lady could learn to provide support without trying to control everything. Intriguingly, both problems are linked to shifting gender dynamics. Sure, Danny knows to respect and embrace that his girlfriend makes more money than he does, but no one’s told him (or any of us) how to provide for a fully self-sufficient woman. By the same token, how is Debbie supposed to share her life with another person when she’s been raised to function as her own island?
Even the supporting cast falls prey to this subconscious power struggle. No review of About Last Night would be complete without at least some mention of Kevin Hart and Regina Hall’s over-the-top antics as Danny and Debbie’s respective BFFs. The original film never explains why Bernie and Joan keep trying to break up our protagonists. This version provides a believable motive for their pettiness: the two nut balls have just broken up, and neither can stand the idea of having to see each other again.
I suspect Hart and Hall improvised most of their lines in About Last Night, resulting in a couple of continuity errors such as when Bernie eats chocolate cake mere moments after pointing out he’s allergic to the stuff. Also, while their fast and furious repartee had me laughing out loud more than once, I find such deliberately crass material belongs in a different movie. It’s a minor qualm, though, given the universal truth to which their characters speak: we all want to be on top in our relationships but on the bottom in the sack. If you can’t relate to that, well, would it be insensitive to suggest that you’re probably a virgin?