REVIEW — “The Night Before”
Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before pays homage to classic Christmas movies, such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, and Die Hard, while providing Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy and just enough heart to make it a sentimental, hilarious holiday film.
Like most of Seth Rogen’s comedies, such as Neighbors, Knocked Up, and This is the End, The Night Before is a film about a group of guys that have a unique bond and struggle to mature. What makes this particular film work in spite of its familiar formula is the chemistry between its lead actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who portrays Ethan; Seth Rogen, who portrays Isaac; and Anthony Mackie, who portrays Chris. Whether this group of friends is singing, dancing, consuming drugs, arguing, or just hanging out, all three actors easily convey their bromance.
The Night Before revolves around the “final” party that Chris, Isaac, and Ethan will participate in on the night before Christmas. While Chris is dealing with his rising fame, Isaac is struggling with the idea of becoming a father, and Ethan is stuck in the past, in which he behaves immaturely in order to avoid the pain he feels as a result of the tragic death of his parents, which occured just before Christmas in 2001. To help console him, Isaac and Chris agreed to take care of Ethan and take him partying on the night before Christmas as a new tradition. In 2015, Ethan steals invitations to the greatest party, The Nutcracker Ball, which all three friends have dreamed of attending, pursues the girl who got away, Diana, and hangs out with his friends.
Although The Night Before is formulaic and predictable, the effective comedy and performances make this an enjoyably wild, perverse, and ridiculous ride. For most of the film’s runtime, Isaac is freaking out due to an overabundance of drugs and the fact that he is scared of becoming a father. Rogen’s amusing comments and facial expressions make even his most repetitive antics entertaining. Although there is no romantic chemistry between Rogen and Jillian Bell, who portrays his wife, Betsy, they have enough comedic chemistry to keep their screentime engaging. Anthony Mackie’s charisma makes Chris, who is an athlete that resorts to using steroids and cares too much about what others think of him, worth caring about for a comedy like this: his role is admittedly a stereotype. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is once again convincing as a young man, Ethan, who is forced to grow up due to the after effects of a tragedy, a la the superior 50/50, which director Jonathan Levine also wrote and directed.
The most memorable character in The Night Before is Mr. Green, a shady drug dealer who provides the group of friends with both wisdom and drugs, is portrayed excellently by Michael Shannon. Mr. Green is the embodiment of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, as well a quietly intense, stoner version of Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life. Shannon makes it convincing that he is stoned out of his mind, wise, and that he cares for the three main characters. It should also be noted that there are also memorable cameos by Miley Cyrus, James Franco, and Randall Park, who portrayed President Kim in The Interview.
Although there are hilarious homages to Home Alone, Die Hard, and It’s A Wonderful Life, this film is not a classic Christmas film due to a few scripting and pacing issues. For example, although Ethan is given one more chance at the place he works, he decides to steal from his work place and leaves his job at the beginning of the film, but the fact that he lost his job is not addressed in terms of consequences or how it affects his potential future with Diana. While addressing these consequences may have drug the film down, there are several instances where the consequences are completely dropped and the film just keeps on going at its own merry pace. Another example of this is when the driver of a Red Bull limousine wrecks the car in pursuit of a street bum, but the friends get out and it is never mentioned again. When Chris decides to grow up and face the truth, the consequences of this truth are not dealt with either. Avoiding consequences helps keep the pacing faster but leaves the viewer wondering about how long this fun film will stay with them and keeps it from reaching the dramatic heights of 50/50.
As for the pacing, there are times where the excessive Seth Rogen brand of comedy and various antics could have been slightly trimmed in order to make this a better film. Although The Night Before is only 1 hour and 41 minutes, there are a few rough patches where the comedy and drama are not working. These stretches of screentime are not too long, but prevent this film from excelling as a next-level comedy. When there are a few five-minute stretches without a laugh or necessary dramatic moment, this film suffers.
Regardless, Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before pays homage to classic Christmas movies, such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, and Die Hard, while providing Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy and just enough heart to make it a sentimental, hilarious holiday film.