Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

Bachelorette, the latest and greatest in a recent stream of wedding party related comedies, has me thinking about other movies that take place all in the course of one night.  Obviously jam packed with plot points, is there common theme that runs throughout them? This is the question I have as I ponder some famous (and infamous) one night stands:

Bachelorette (2012)

First, the most recent installment of this genre, Bachelorette, takes place on the eve of the wedding of Becky (Rebel Wilson, who also incidentally plays Kristin Wiig’s roommate in Bridesmaids). Her three bitchy high school friends, the uptight Regan (Kirsten Dunst), the ditz Katie (Ilsa Fisher), and the drug addict Gena (Lizzy Caplan) are determined to make the night into a bachelorette party while Becky predictably wants to stay in and have a low key night. Soon, the three bridesmaids get sucked into a whirlwind adventure of drugs, strip clubs, and laundry service before the big day— all while the bride is blissfully unaware. Though the movie takes some callous digs at a variety of serious topics, it succeeds in capturing how girlfriends emotionally process one of their own tying the knot. I would be remiss if I did not include a Hangover mention, but we don’t really see what went down at that crazy bachelor party in Vegas. We are simply there to witness picking up the pieces the next day. And finding out where the groom went.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and confused, a classic stoner comedy set in the height of 1970’s recreational drug use, follows a group of teens, from rising freshman to seniors, on the last day school. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are on everyone’s mind, and with a standout cast including future stars Mila Jovavich,  Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck, it hits of the perfect note of teenage angst. With hormonal teenagers, everyday (and night) feels like it’s make or break, which is why Dazed’s frantic pace feels authentic. We sink into our old high school selves and as we watch the characters party away the present and look anxiously to the future.

American Graffiti

Another up-all-night film with a similar plot line is the iconic American Graffiti, in which a group of high school students including Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard spend one last night together before college. Set in the early sixties, American Graffiti captures teetering on the edge of adulthood  during an all night cruise. Also in this vein, Can’t Hardly Wait, a 90’s teen flick about a group of students at a grad night party who are hoping to fulfill their four year old high school fantasies.

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle takes the stoner theme to absurd new territory, building around an epic craving for burgers after a smoke session. Best buddies Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) drive through New Jersey and meet a host of crazy characters as they travel in search of the ultimate stoner comfort food. With gross out and sexual humor at its “highest”, White Castle is hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. Through their adventures, the friends shed their geeky demeanors and become more confident, one of them even nabbing a hottie in the end. Also, the Neil Patrick Harris cameo is not to be missed.

Superbad (2007)

Superbad with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera also fits in this genre as the lead characters attempt to throw a party (with real alcohol) and nab the cute girl next door (who happens to be Emma Stone). The buddy comedy theme works really well within the constraints of an all-night romp, as the friendship is tested and is strengthened as a result.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Though a comedy is more apt to fit into the all night genre, let’s not overlook another kind of special night. There are romantic movies and then there’s Before Sunrise, the aptly titled love vehicle in which an American traveler (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman (Julie Delpy) meet, flirt, and fall in love all in one night while exploring Vienna. The city provides a beautiful backdrop for Hawke and Delpy’s epic chemistry and long, spiritual conversations about life. By the end of the movie you find yourself reminiscing about your own young love story, when staying up all night talking was easy and electrifying. Though the young pair promises to meet again after their brief affair, we don’t know if they ever will. The fleeting, desperate feeling of it all leaves you with the bittersweet feeling of falling in love.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in From Dusk Till Dawn, Quentin Tarantino and horror genius Robert Rodriguez pair up for a horror action flick in which runaway criminals (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) and their hostages hang out at a strip club. Unbeknownst to the pair, this is no ordinary strip club in Mexico, and is in fact, populated by vampires. The movie focuses on if they can survive until the sun rises (and the vampires die), and even as grotesque and violent as the movie is, it’s a delightfully fun romp.

So what have we learned about films that take place in the course of a night? The constant thematic is transition. One night can change everything, if you will. A majority of these films take place on a precipice of change (marriage, graduation, love, death) and gives us a glimpse into the breaking point. The anticipation of the end of a part of one’s life drives these films and the characters and creates interest and emotion. Ultimately, what makes the film works is allowing the viewer to invest quickly in the characters and their fate. Creating rich, multi-layered characters that we care about is the challenge of these films. If the filmmaker has succeeded, we’ll want to know what happens when the night is over.