For weary, middle-aged parents everywhere, the two little words date night speak volumes. They're words that say, "We still care about our marriage." Words that say, "We're still trying to carve out a real relationship apart from the bills, dishes, laundry, kids." Words that promise a brief respite from the never-ending do lists of mundane domestic routines.
But what happens when even date night grows stale?
That's the conundrum faced by Phil and Claire Foster. Each week, their babysitter shows up to give the professional couple (he's a tax specialist, she's a real estate agent) a break from their elementary school-age children, Oliver and Charlotte. Each week, they head to the same steakhouse and order the same meal.
They're supposed to be focusing on each other. But they've run out of things to say. And so they play a game called "What's the story?" in which they imagine what other couples in the restaurant might be talking about.
Then three events shake up the Fosters' own story.
First, they learn that friends Haley and Brad have decided to call it quits. Neither has much passion anymore, and they've concluded they'd each be happier alone. Scared to death they're headed down the same path, Phil and Claire swap their normal date night plans for something out of the ordinary: a trip into Manhattan (from their New Jersey home) for a meal at the hot new seafood joint, Claws.
There's only one problem: Claws is booked a month in advance. Which leads to the second status quo-shaking event of the evening: Phil decides they should assume the identity of another "party of two," the Tripplehorns, who've failed to show up. Claire is aghast … and thrilled.
Somewhere in the middle of their second or third glass of wine, that third event makes its entrance—and it's a doozy. A pair of thugs are looking for a flash drive memory stick the Tripplehorns have stolen from a ruthless criminal kingpin. He wants it back, and his goons don't care—or believe, for that matter—that the nice folks sitting at the Tripplehorns' table are really the Fosters from New Jersey.
Maybe the Fosters should be happy. At least the madcap, Manhattan-spanning misadventure that follows is unlike any date night they've ever had before.
Date Night illustrates that maintaining a solid marital union—which it deems a good thing—is difficult and takes intentionality. Phil and Claire obviously care about each other enough to spend time alone together, sans kids, every week. They may be wrestling with what to do with the tedium of daily life, but at least they're trying. And when they see their friends' marriage crumble, it inspires them to change their routine in an effort to reconnect.
As the Fosters' evening gets turned upside down, they realize that the goons who are chasing them aren't going to believe their story—no matter what they say. The only solution to the problem? Finding the missing flash drive. That mission forces them to cooperate with each other, which in turn reveals longstanding issues of trust and communication that they must deal with. As the film winds down, Phil tells his wife, "I'd do it again. Us. You. Me. Kids. All of it. I'd do it again. I choose you every time."
One of the people the Fosters turn to for help is a security specialist named Holbrooke Grant who was once one of Claire's real estate clients. Even though they show up at his house in the middle of the night needing an address to go along with a cell phone number they've procured, he helps them find it.
The Fosters are primarily motivated by the intense need to save their own skins. But in the process of doing so, they also help police bring down one of the baddest guys in town, as well as identifying a corrupt district attorney and police officers doing his dirty work.
In the background at Holbrooke's house, Buddhist statues are visible. "Say your prayers" is one character's counsel during a moment of peril.
We see Phil and Claire in bed (in pajamas) and hear a lengthy discussion about whether they're too tired (and too gassy) to have sex. (They are.)
If only that had been the end of it.
Claire and Phil make out on their front lawn (with him eventually on top of her). And in an attempt to get a crooked district attorney to say something incriminating on tape, Phil and Claire pose as a couple working at an underground strip/sex club. They're led into a back room to perform for the DA, and we see several men and women gyrating at poles and in very skimpy costumes along the way. Three barely clad women are nuzzling the DA when Phil and Claire begin an awkward dance.
During that dance, they talk about whether they're willing to have sex in front of the man—and it seems they probably are. Phil thrusts his hips against the floor, grinds against his wife and licks a stripper pole. She's wearing lingerie that accentuates her bust. (Comments from both her and Phil involve her nipples and breast size.)
Holbrooke turns out to be a buff guy who never wears a shirt. Claire—and the camera—eye his physique appreciatively. She trades flirtatious, suggestive dialogue with him. And she's apparently not the only one who does so: Each time we see him in his house, his girlfriend appears in the frame wearing a bra, panties and a shirt that only partially covers. She asks if they're going to have a foursome.
And the Tripplehorns are even worse. She's an exotic dancer and prostitute who has posed in scandalous pictures with the district attorney. (We hear about it and briefly see the images.) They allude to anal sex and mention fetishes. She wears a skimpy, see-through shirt. They share a zealous kiss that prompts a comment about their tongues from Phil.
The names of sexual body parts become part of casual conversations and put-downs. There are passing references to homosexuality, a woman fantasizing about sex with three men at once, a couple talking about having lots of sex on a beach, a book that describes a Muslim teenager's breasts and first period, syphilis, an erection, vaginal self-examination and masturbation.
The two men trying to catch the Tripplehorns order the Fosters out of the restaurant and into an alley, where they hold them at gunpoint. In a boathouse, Phil beats both men over the head with a wooden oar, and a large shelf of boating equipment collapses on one of the goons as well. The Fosters escape amid a hail of bullets.
Claire wraps a piece of cloth around her hand and breaks a window. She also repeatedly runs into dresser and file drawers that Phil absentmindedly leaves open. A lengthy car chase through NYC involves multiple sideswipes and accidents, as well as Phil's car ending up in the river.
Crude or Profane Language
At least 35 abuses of God's name (including one pairing with "d‑‑n") and two of Jesus' name. One fully spoken f-word, three uses of "eff you" and one of "mother-effer." We hear half-a-dozen s-words. A total of about 20 milder vulgarities include "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "a‑‑" and "p‑‑‑ed." Phil derisively labels several people "whores."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Phil and Claire drink wine several times and are well on their way to being quite tipsy at Claws by the time they're interrupted. Phil's friend Brad drinks a beer. The Tripplehorns talk about sniffing nitrous fumes out of an aerosol can of whipped cream.
Other Negative Elements
The Fosters lie about their identity in order to get a table at Claws (though everyone who hears about it later chastises them for their deception). They also break into the Tripplehorns' apartment. The two men pursuing the Fosters turn out to be corrupt police officers. After escaping them the first time, Phil vomits twice.
"This could have been so good."
So says DA Frank Crenshaw. It's his sick assessment of Phil and Claire's impromptu strip club performance. And he's as wrong as wrong can be. But if he'd said that about the movie in which he appears, he'd be right on the money.
Date Night's premise is a terrific one, perhaps because it was born of a genuine aha moment in director Shawn Levy's life. In the film's production notes, Levy said, "I was in the process of making the second Night at the Museum film and, as is kind of our ritual, once a week, my wife and I go out to dinner." He went on to describe how they were talking about the same stuff they always talk about—work, the kids, schedules—when he had an idea. "I said to my wife, 'Wouldn't it be cool to do a movie about a date night, where you just did one thing differently? And, from there, you have an unraveling of everything, to the point of it threatening your life and your marriage, with all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But, in the midst of all that crazy stuff, you end up recapturing the vitality that date night was invented in the first place to preserve."
That's a great summary of what I was hoping to see when I showed up for a screening of the film. Add in the considerable comedic talents of Steve Carell and Tina Fey and, like I said, this could have been so good.
But then there's all that "crazy stuff," as Levy calls it. I'll call it what it is: perverse. Once things get rolling, verbal references to sex are constant, and we hear about anal sex, masturbation, threesomes, foursomes, S&M paraphernalia and prostitution. We see a strip club—and Claire trading in her evening gown for a corset to join her husband on the stripper pole.
Date nights are great ideas. Date Night … not so much.