The Night Before Review

The Night Before Review

Rating:

7.5 out of 10

The Night Before Cast:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Ethan

Seth Rogen as Isaac

Anthony Mackie as Chris Robinson

Jillian Bell as Betsy

Lizzy Caplan as Diana

Ilana Glazer as Rebecca Grinch

Michael Shannon as Mr. Green

Heléne Yorke as Cindy

Aaron Hill as Tommy Owens

Tracy Morgan as Narrator / Santa

Darrie Lawrence as Nana

Nathan Fielder as Joshua

Kamal Angelo Bolden as Kamal 

Directed by Jonathan Levine

Story:

Three life-long friends—Ethan, Isaac and Chris (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie)—go on one last Christmas Eve bender together as they seek out the elusive and exclusive Nutcracker Ball. With Isaac about to have a baby which might recuse him from their tradition, his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives him her blessing and a box full of drugs which has him tripping while his friend Chris, now a huge sports star, is running around town trying to score pot for a teammate he’s trying to impress, and Ethan tries to get over his ex-girlfriend Diane (Lizzy Caplan) who keeps turning up.

Analysis:

Regardless of whether you’re ready for the holidays or not, the holiday comedies have arrived. While The Night Before doesn’t try too hard to break new ground with what one might expect from a Seth Rogen holiday comedy, it at least strives to create something funny out of its simple premise of a quest for the holy grail of holiday parties.

We’re introduced to the three friends years earlier as they begin what becomes a holiday tradition trying to help Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) get over his funk after his parents are killed in an accident. Every year after that, they conduct a ritual of visiting the same Christmas-themed locations around New York with the dream of getting to the elusive Nutcracker Ball. With Rogen’s Isaac getting married and having a baby on the way and Chris (Anthony Mackie) becoming a huge football star who is constantly swamped by his fans, it looks like the tradition is ending until Ethan scores tickets for the Ball and they decide to finally attend the party that’s eluded them in years past.

The idea came from the mind of director Jonathan Levine, whose earlier film The Wackness showed the type of like-minded thinking that would make him a perfect creative partner for Rogen, although it’s not that original a plot for a comedy. We’ve seen similar “crazy night” comedies over the years and setting it on Christmas Eve doesn’t do much to change that fact, although each of the three friends are given their own storylines and arc that benefit greatly from having diverse actors like Gordon-Levitt and Mackie in the roles. Tying things together is Michael Shannon in a hilarious role as their local drugdealer Mr. Green who takes on the Jacob Marley role in giving each of them a “Christmas Carol”-like high to see their past, present and future.

Playing a role not too far removed from other ones he played, Rogen doesn’t bother to show a lot of range to differentiate Isaac from those characters and there isn’t a lot done to flesh his character out (I’m not even sure we learn what his occupation is in the movie.) Isaac basically has the same issues to work out as Rogen’s character in Neighbors, where he has to start acting like an adult without really wanting to. Watching Rogen going through a bad trip (which is the main joke/arc of his character) isn’t anything we haven’t seen from him before. It’s almost become the staple of any stoner comedy, and unfortunately it’s been coopted by lesser comedies featuring older actresses getting stoned. In this case, at least it greatly adds to the humor as they face various obstacles on the way to finding the Nutcracker Ball.

Probably the most interesting character’s story arc is that of Ethan trying to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend Diane, because the latter is played by Lizzy Caplan, who is so good in everything and this is no exception, her scenes with Gordon-Levitt generally being enjoyable because they’re so well-matched. Mackie is also quite well-suited for his role as a sports star trying to deal with his new-found fame, including a mother who likes showing her son off and a crazy fan (Ilana Glazer) who takes things way too far. Mindy Kaling does her usual thing as Diane’s best friend who accidentally takes Isaac’s phone leaving him with hers, as he receives a stream of graphic pictures of a stranger’s penis, made funnier by the fact he’s tripping.

Levine is more than capable a director to pull together so many diverging subplots and bits into a cohesive comedy, although some of the bits tend to feel like low-hanging fruit catering to easy audiences that don’t require much beyond a Run-DMC karaoke number or the guys performing Kanye at the F.A.O. Schwartz piano made famous in Tom Hanks’ Big to have fun (It’s a bittersweet scene, knowing that F.A.O. Schwartz closed over the summer.) In fact, everyone involved with the film seems fine paying homage to all the best-loved holiday movies like Home Alone rather than trying to create something that breaks new ground.

Things culminate at the Nutcracker Ball, which features a number of scene-stealing cameos we won’t spoil, although one is more obvious than the other. By then, the movie has succeeded at making you care about these characters, particularly Ethan, so when things end as expected, there’s no ill will felt towards it.

The Bottom Line:

The Night Before derives the most laughs possible out of what is the simplest of holiday comedy concepts, and it works perfectly well when placed next to Rogen’s other films.

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