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How Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Rough Night’ Became the Rare Studio Comedy That’s LGBT-Friendly

”We’re not trying to exploit [our characters] or use them as the butt of a joke,“ director Lucia Aniello tells TheWrap

With “Rough Night,” Sony Pictures managed the rare feat of delivering a big studio comedy that fairly and respectfully represents LGBT characters.

It’s a task that Sony and its competitors — Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Paramount  – have seldom managed to achieve, as GLAAD has reported in its annual reports for the past five years.

But director Lucia Aniello’s female-driven R-rated bachelorette romp features an interracial lesbian couple, a sex-positive threesome and even some truck-stop oral sex soliciting. All of it draws big laughs, and none comes at the expense of queer people and their dignity.

“When we’re writing characters, we genuinely love them. We really fell in love with our actors, too, so we write from that place,” Aniello told TheWrap, who wrote the film with Paul W. Downs (both veterans of Comedy Central’s “Broad City”). “We’re not trying to exploit them or use them as the butt of a joke.”

“We’re trying to have them exist in a world that we would like to exist in. Yeah, maybe you find yourself in a seedy situation, but that doesn’t mean you have to put judgment on those people,” she said.

In “Rough Night,” a mismatched but loving group of college girlfriends reunite for a Miami bachelorette weekend in honor of Jess (Scarlett Johansson).

(Warning: Some minor spoilers follow.) Two core members of the group (Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz) were a romantic item in college, and despite years of separation still have lingering feelings. Their affection is not displayed to please men, even in their co-ed days.

At their cheesy but luxurious Miami rental, some hypersexual neighbors played by Ty Burrell and Demi Moore take a liking to Kravitz. After the women accidentally kill their stripper and go about hiding the body, Kravitz “takes one for the team” by hooking up with the couple to obtain incriminating security-camera footage.

After the encounter, Kravitz’s character does not retreat in shame a la “The Crying Game” (or a Moore classic, “Indecent Proposal”). Her world is actually rocked.

“She was inside me, then she was outside me, then she was me,” Kravitz says in a hilariously euphoric line delivery, as her friends scramble to deal with the dead stripper.

There’s also an interesting spectrum of masculinity in the film. While the women dabble in booze and drugs, Jess’ fiancé (played by Downs) joins his pals for a wine-and-cheese tasting in a rustic cabin. Many jokes are had at the absurdity of their own “wild” time at his bachelor party, but none veer into a cruel place or a mockery of more sensitive men.

Peter gets wind that something bad has happened to Jess, and sets off on a road trip to intervene. Strapped for cash and out of gas, he offers to clean windshields for money at a truck stop.

A burly trucker offers him crystal meth, and asks if he’d like to give oral sex for cash.

Peter declines, and moments later encounters a man looking for crystal meth and offering oral sex.

“No, but I have someone I want you to meet,” Peter says. It gets the big laugh it deserves, as Peter brings the two gas station souls together.

This kind of interaction, mitigated by a straight man, is a departure from many mainstream studio comedies that more typically play up “gay panic,” or situations where straight people are distressed by queer people in social or sexual situations.

“We continue to see many of the same problems repeatedly,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in this year’s Studio Responsibility Index. “This includes LGBTQ characters who lack substance and are often treated only as a punchline, a dangerous message which keeps old prejudices alive both here in the U.S. and around the world.”

Aniello is proud to push the boundaries of a studio comedy with “Rough Night.”

“It sounds probably particularly hippie, but when it comes down to it, it’s why we make movies,” she said. “We make them because relating people through comedy is a way — for me at least — to feel less alone.”

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