When I saw Colossal earlier this summer a strange thing happened before the movie started: they played the same trailer twice.
Okay. That didn’t actually happen, at least not in the way I’m making it sound. You’ve read the title of the article and can probably guess where I’m going with this, but just humor me, please.
So, as I was saying they played the same trailer twice, forcing the seven of us in the theater on a Wednesday afternoon to rewatch the bawdy, Bridesmaids-meets-The-Hangover-esque exploits of a group of women (a recognizable leading lady surrounded by funny character actresses) on an out-of-town weekend trip. They strut through the city like they own it, are seen sharing a group hug on a bed together, roll their eyes at the over-the-top stylings and one-liners from the obvious wild card member of their little sistership, hit the local bars and enjoy the hell out of seeing a male stripper. Lay some female empowerment pop music underneath it all and you’ve got yourself a formulaic comedy with a female twist.
Except, of course, this wasn’t actually the same trailer played on repeat. It was actually different trailers for different movies that actually seem broadly identical apart from the fact that one movie has all white women and the other has all black women.
I present to you: Rough Night (due June 16) and Girls Trip (due July 21), two films similar enough that if you nodded off halfway through the Rough Night trailer and woke right up during the second half of the Girls Trip trailer you would have obviously recognized that Scarlett Johansson and friends had been replaced by Queen Latifah and gal pals but otherwise assumed it was still the same movie.
There are various plot differences. Rough Night is set in Miami, Girls Trip in New Orleans. Rough Night‘s characters are college friends reuniting for a bachelorette party; Girls Trip’s characters are lifelong friends rallying to lift up a woman whose marriage has fallen apart. Rough Night has five girls; Girls Trip just 4. And, most crucially, Rough Night takes a dark comedy turn when the girls accidentally kill the stripper and comically flail about in the ensuing cover-up attempt whereas Girls Trip doesn’t run its girls afoul of the law, at least not to the level of homicide. But the trailers present roughly the same kind of movie with similar comedic beats and jokes:
The similarities between the two films might be more superficial than anything else, and this could simply be a condemnation of the homogenity overttaking our movie trailers. Still, this doesn’t look good right now.
This has happened before, of course. Many, many times. I wrote about Hollywood’s long history of duplicate projectst 4 years ago, but I’ve rarely been in a movie theater which played the trailers for two such projects back-to-back. The only other time I can think of it happening was late last year when every thing I saw seemed to come with back-to-back trailers for Life (the Alien rip-off) and Alien: Covenant (the actual Alien movie that would prefer to be a Prometheus movie). And I don’t recall the key difference between duplicate projects with overlapping release dates being the fact that one appears to have been made for white people and the other for black people.
It’s a shame this has happened because here are two female-fronted R-Rated comedies, one of them directed by a woman (Rough Night’s Lucia Aniello, making her feature-film debut) and the other by a person of color (Girls Trip‘s Malcolm D. Lee). Those are good things for representation and diversity in Hollywood, but history suggests that whenever duplicate projects pop up they tend to be remembered by the general population for their similarities (e.g, Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak, Jobs vs. Steve Jobs, No Strings Attached vs. Friends with Benefits) and not their individual merits. Plus, as TheOutline put it:
“Conversations about race and representation in film and television have broadened, but an undeniable divide persists, as it does elsewhere in American life. Rough Night and Girls Trip feel like cheap proof of that cultural segregation, and also of the likelihood that Hollywood as an institution has run out of ideas.”