(Scored out of 10; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
“Tis the season” as they say, which means bountiful Christmas marketing, dreadful holiday songs and most importantly, Christmas movies. Brought to cheerful moviegoers the world over is The Night Before, Seth Rogen and Jonathan Levine’s latest venture into the world of comedy.
Looking back 14 years, Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) parents are killed in a terrible car accident on Christmas Eve. Not wanting to leave their friend alone on such an important holiday, his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) show up at his house for a night of holiday shenanigans. In spite of the tragic accident, their night of Christmas debauchery signals the beginning of a cherished holiday tradition.
Fast-forward to the present and the trio are meeting up for the final time. With Isaac on the verge of fatherhood and Chris’s football career blossoming into stardom, life is just too demanding to keep it up. In what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, Ethan stumbles upon a trio of tickets to the coolest holiday party, one that has eluded the friends since their earliest evenings out, the Nutcracker ball. The ensuing night sees the three friends go on an unsuspecting journey filled with booze, phallic imagery and the not-so-subtle realization that Ethan might not be the only one with some growing up to do.
Allow me to preface this review by saying it won’t appeal to everyone. Comedy in general is subjective and The Night Before is meant for a very specific crowd. To give you an idea of what’s in store; Seth Rogen spends almost the entirety of the film tripping out on assorted drugs making an idiot of himself and fawning over (massive) dick pics. This isn’t the Christmas comedy you get the family together for a trip to the cinema. This is the Christmas comedy you grab a few of your buddies and a six-pack for.
That being said, there is actually a surprisingly well-done emotional undertone to the film that sees these childhood friends realize what growing up entails, even if it goes against everything they thought they knew. It isn’t easy to tell a meaningful tale of friends growing up and apart, let alone one filled with drugs (and their creepy drug dealers), penises and Miley Cyrus. But somehow Jonathan Levine has succeeded. It’s not about to win any dramatic awards but when your pitched a film about three dudes doing drugs and drinking all night the emotional narrative is more than competent.
The film is set-up as if Ethan was the main character but Seth Rogen’s Isaac is undoubtedly the focus. As far as acting goes Rogen doesn’t stray too far from his norm (he actually doesn’t stray at all from his norm). He is completely ridiculous but uncannily likable. Anthony Mackie plays an equally high-energy character but with less of a focus on drug addled debauchery and more on topical humor (social media, our celebrity obsession and bathroom sex. That sort of stuff). Levitt’s Ethan is the straight man of the group attempting to balance out his larger than life friends. This admittedly leaves him with the least funny material but he does manage a few laughs. Ethan, Isaac and Chris begin the film as archetypal one-note characters but once the second act and the realizations of the night kick in the trio adopt much more rounded character traits.
Not to be outdone are the supporting cast, which tout a long list of names including the likes of Mindy Kaling, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Tracy Morgan, Jason Jones, Jillian Bell and many other comedian cameos. Whether playing a pivotal role or hopping in for a scene, they all leave their mark on the film. Michael Shannon specifically, who seems like an odd fit when billed with Seth Rogen and the like, is hilarious. His “subtle intensity” really shines and provides some of the best comedic material the film has to offer.
However, The Night Before isn’t all sunshine and rainbows (or in this case mistletoe and Christmas lights). As mentioned the film isn’t going to please everyone and even those that find this particular brand of humor hilarious (myself included) will find more than a few moments waiting for something to laugh at. Especially in the opening half things can be quite slow. The trio take their time getting the night underway and it is only when they are all competently liquored that they really start to land the jokes. This is in part due to setting up the emotional anchor for later on in the film but it does take away from the enjoyment of the movie. Just think of it this way, the more inebriated the characters get the more dumb shit they will do.
The Night Before is hilarious at it’s best and funny at it’s worst. Combined with an unexpectedly moving subplot, I have no issue recommending this flick to the right crowd.
Overall, The Night Before gets a 7.5/10.
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