Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to the world of comedy — she is a member of the so-called Five-Timers Club, an enviable group of stars who have hosted “Saturday Night Live” at least five times — and she’s managed to emerge as an unexpected comedic MVP without ever toplining an outright comedy. Some 20 years into her career, Johansson has yet to star in a raunchy knee-slapper that takes full advantages of her more light-leaning chops…until now. This week, that changes with the release of “Rough Night.”
An unabashedly female-centric comedy in the vein of “Bridesmaids” and “Bachelorette,” the new film from “Broad City” regulars Lucia Aniello (who makes her feature directorial debut with the film) and Paul W. Downs (who wrote it alongside Aniello and also co-stars) casts Johansson in a lead role alongside a strong ensemble of other (also very funny) women, including Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Zoë Kravitz. The film follows Jess’ (Johansson) shockingly ill-fated bachelorette weekend, which is fueled by the group’s hilarious/horrific plan to hide the body of a stripper that, oops, they accidentally killed.
It’s a big step for Johansson, already a bankable action superstar who also found the time to be Woody Allen’s muse, and one that will likely introduce her to the wide world of comedy stardom. But Johansson clearly hasn’t been hiding her comedic chops. Here are 5 of our favorite examples of Johansson’s knack for the sillier stuff.
1. The Mermaid Ballet in “Hail, Caesar!”
Johansson doesn’t have a huge part in the Coen Brothers’ under-appreciated send-up of Hollywood in its gilded heyday, but she does manage to make every single moment of her screen time absolutely sing — even though no one would want her DeeAnna Moran to sing, well, probably anything. Taking place just as the long-essential studio system was undergoing massive changes, the film positions Johansson’s gravelly-voiced synchronized swimming star as emblematic of a system still woefully stuck in the past. Talkies were in! Swimming was not!
The initial laugh-out-loud force of hearing DeeAnna’s actual voice — a solid “dammit” if there ever was one — is amusing enough, but following it up with a longer conversation with Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix only further drives home Johansson’s obviously fun schtick. Add in some physical humor (the longer gag is that she’s pregnant, and mermaid suits aren’t so forgiving), and no one is having a better time here than Johansson.
2. Meeting Cute in “The Nanny Diaries”
While “Rough Night” is Johnasson’s first purely comedic leading role, the 2007 rom-com “The Nanny Diaries” provided her with plenty of chances to add humor into the big screen version of the best-selling novel. As unexpected nanny Annie Braddock, Johansson toes the line between goofy-confused and endearingly well-meaning, with some physical high jinx to spare. In an early scene from the film — another team up with the actress and her Marvel Cinematic Universe co-star Chris Evans, weirdly enough — Annie has a wholly embarrassing meet-cute with the so-called “Harvard Hottie” down the hall.
As with her “Hail, Caesar!” role, Johannson displays a knack for physical comedy (those undies!) and a refreshing willingness to get silly in service to a relatively small scene. It’s hardly the most embarrassing thing that happens to Annie in directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s movie, but it does set the tone for the rest of her performance.
3. “Complicit” Commercial from “Saturday Night Live”
Johansson has hosted “Saturday Night Live” an enviable five times over the last decade (her first appearance was in January of 2006, when she wasn’t even actively promoting any particular project), putting her in rarefied company that has allowed her to hone her comedic chops. Her last turn as host was easily her best yet, including a slew of starring parts across a wide range of sketches, the kind of stuff that shows off just how easily she can slip inside the comedy series’ ranks.
In the commercial for fake perfume “Complicit,” Johansson reintroduced her very timely Ivanka Trump imitation (she first showed it off back in 2007, during far simpler times), one that she was likely itching to resurrect for some time (Google search “Scarlett Johannson Ivanka Trump,” and the actress’ distaste for the First Daughter becomes very clear). While “SNL” has struggled post-election to be as pointed in its political humor as it needs to be, the Johansson-led commercial was biting, smart, and very funny indeed.
4. “Translator” Sketch from “Saturday Night Live”
But even “Complicit” can’t hold a candle to another sketch from the March 2017 show, which takes topical humor in an entirely different direction. Despite a slow start — where exactly is this pet translator business going anyway? — the sketch makes a big, bold jump that Johansson carries off beautifully.
If you haven’t seen the sketch yet, we won’t spoil the surprise, though we will admit it’s the exact kind of “SNL” offering that drive Donald Trump to angrily tweet post-episode.
5. “Black Widow Trailer” from “Saturday Night Live”
Johansson’s ability to laugh at herself might be her greatest strength as a comedic performer, and this 2015 sketch, which delightfully skewers both the MCU and her place in it as Black Widow (“Marvel! We Know Girls!”) is the best example of the actress’ interest in poking fun in service to big laughs. Blending together romantic comedy tropes and a hefty dose of cynicism towards the female-challenged Marvel universe, “Black Widow: Age of Me” is about as refreshing, reflexive, and just plain funny as “SNL” sketches get.
Bonus points to Johansson for keeping a straight face in the midst of a wholly unexpected influx of regular “SNL” players doing their best — read: definitely worst — to impersonate the rest of the superhero MCU team, who function here as the seemingly required group of “wacky” friends.
“Rough Night” opens in theaters June 16.