Review: About Last Night

Oh thank god, we finally figured out what to do with Kevin Hart.

Kevin Hart has been perched on the periphery of stardom for a while now, ready to pounce, but he’s had a lot of false starts lately. Stuck playing the “funny” one in the well-acted but ethically quagmirous Think Like a Man, a bombastic beta male in the forgettable Ride Along, and what I think was supposed to be a distant ancestor of The Fifth Element’s Ruby Rhod in Grudge Match. Hart has been a talented standup comedian for quite some time, but Hollywood only just now seems to have figured out how to make use of his talents in the cinema.

Surprise! All he needed was a great script. David Mamet does quite nicely, even if he has been filtered through About Last Night… screenwriters Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, and now the thoughtful typings of Bachelorette‘s Leslye Headland (herself the bane of auto-correcting software everywhere).

Exclusive Video: Kevin Hart and Regina Hall talk stretching the limits of romantic comedies, and chicken masks.

This new version of About Last Night, the skeletal remains of Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago still holding it aloft, is a spot on, intelligent, witty, romantic and sexy dramedy of which everyone involved should be proud. The script sparkles with insight and fairness, detailing the ups and downs of two relationships in Los Angeles (goodbye, Chicago) and the honest emotional and intellectual responses of the people within them. The dialogue sings with subtext, and every scene reinforces the one that came before it and pushes the narrative further along until – and it’s pathetic that this should feel so refreshing – it emerges as an old-fashioned, real movie, as opposed to now-popular eclectic display of contrivances and ad-libbed dick jokes.

That said, there are dick jokes, but they feel necessary to the plot if you can believe it. About Last Night stars Kevin Hart and Michael Ealy as best friends and co-workers, who at the start of the film embark on relationships with Regina Hall and Joy Bryant. Hart and Hall are excitable, emotional, oversexed and outlandish, but that’s who they are, and you know people like them. Their relationship evolves over the course of time from a passionate affair to a miserable breakup that never seems resolved, resorting as they do to one fight after another, barely concealing their broken hearts and persistent mutual attraction with clever barbs and jealous outbursts.

Exclusive Video: Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant talk dramatizing subtle relationships, and dressing as Ike and Tina Turner.

Ealy and Bryant also end up together, but they are – in the words of their best friends Hart and Hall – the “boring” ones. They don’t use sex to solve their problems, they don’t insult the ones they love. Their relationship isn’t the stuff films are usually made of, but if About Last Night is any indication it’s those other films that are making a mistake. Ealy and Bryant exude natural, understated charisma and bring the best out of each other as performers, crafting a quieter but no less riveting romantic duo who act on their desires, are open with their affection, and yet eventually let little compromises and doubts wilt a relationship that perhaps moved too quickly into commitment, and could have stood for a little more of the impassioned nonsense that befalls their extroverted friends.

About Last Night is a rarity, and not just because it gave Kevin Hart a real character to play for once (he’s up to the challenge). It’s a romantic movie that doesn’t rely on contrived meet cutes and unrelated plot devices to get its players together and then arbitrarily keep them apart. Steve Pink’s film isn’t wholly naturalistic – the characters are a little too clever and have a greater propensity for spot-on comedic and dramatic timing – but it’s not a trying to be, and About Last Night benefits from the confident hand of storytellers who know exactly what they are doing. The patter feels just perfect enough to make what these people are saying to each other clearer, if only to an audience that I suspect is starved for such a smart exploration of modern 30-something romance.

And if this what Hollywood can do with Kevin Hart, I suspect they’re starved for him too. There are lots of other David Mamet scripts he should remake next. Who wouldn’t want to see him battle bears in a reimagining of The Edge?

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.