Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie
Spoilers Within: Yes
Were it not for the Christmas season and the annual desire to keep each December’s film slate from turning stale (as much as I love them, there’s only so many times I can watch The Muppets Christmas Carol or Die Hard) I probably would have been less keen to watch Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before. There’s nothing wrong with vulgar and tasteless humour when it’s done right, and though Rogen and co. generally do right by themselves, their crassness for the sake of it has slowly become a chore to sit through. Near-constant strings of tedious jokes about fucking, masturbating or bodily fluid exchanging in lieu of actual character seems to be endemic in contemporary comedy, and while this amalgamation of multiple plots borrowed from seasonal classics (A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas) doesn’t avoid that specific strand of bro humour, it’s at least giddily entertaining and fast paced enough in its wraparound adventure that it could easily become a staple of drunken Christmastime viewings.
With Seth Rogen, the writers (Sausage Party‘s Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir and Superbad writer Evan Goldberg) finally gave us the ostensible straight man: a family man who has his life together, whose looming paternal status gives him reason to bring an end to this annual celebration of friendship. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie round up the trio with the somewhat reclusive Ethan – whose past shows the origins of their tradition – and the steroid-pumping professional sportsman Chris – whose future also puts their custom on the backburner. These two characters are essentially the carriers for the film’s emotional past and the ambiguous future, while it’s Rogen’s Isaac that puts the focus on the very active, and very unstable present. The catalyst for Isaac’s evening of pure debauchery is his wife (Idiotsitter‘s Jillian Bell) handing him a box of drugs: he needs to let loose, which suggests his life is more figured out than we’re used to with Rogen characters, and this alone takes the film from standard comedy to depraved bizarreness. If it weren’t for Rogen, the film would’ve been at risk of boredom: Gordon-Levitt and Mackie do their best, but they simply rebound of Rogen, who plays drug-induced mania to crazy accuracy. I’ve seen these people in real life, and Rogen encapsulates the erratic, nonsensical behaviour so perfectly that he needn’t say anything to get laughs from his situation.
Essentially an A-to-B story, The Night Before doesn’t so much offer anything new, but it’s all about the ridiculous ways it fulfills these typical detours; whether it’s Nathan Fielder’s excitable, jittery limo driver, Ilana Glazer’s invincible Christmas crank, or a real cracker of a cameo who appears under a halo of a streetlamp to offer the trio sage advice and herbal remedies. Everyone is clearly basking in the fun of it all which effuses from the screen even when the jokes fall flat. Jonathan Levine – who showed his deftness at combining humour with heart in the 50/50 – again shows his skill by giving an emotional scenario of three men afraid of settling down; Isaac becoming a father, Ethan’s struggle to commit to his ex-partner (Lizzie Caplan) and Chris’s observations that his family are more important than his career. These character moments about friendship and loyalty actually worked, more so than the cheesy ending or the wince-inducing musical number had any right to be.
At times insufferably dumb (hello Miley Cyrus), with some routes amounting to little more than distractions (Glazer’s weed-thief grinch seemed more a derailment than intended), The Night Before is an often amusing, sometimes hilarious Christmas bro-comedy peppered with neatly packaged homages and a clear-headed mindset to modern friendship and romance. Where it falls flat, the postscript of the narration (which, after the intro, had been entirely passed over) goes someway to acquit the moments that didn’t work at all, successfully plastering over a few disjointed arcs, contrived occurrences and fantastical situations. In the end, it sits neatly in the camp of Christmas films that will be a joy to revisit: whether attentively or whilst chatting with inebriated friends.Double-bill it with A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, and you’ve a drug-fuelled night of absurd lunacy that reminds you that Christmas needn’t be too serious.