The Night Before Review
A OUTRAGEOUSLY FUNNY R-RATED
Last year, the movie world was rattled by the media frenzy surrounding by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview, a political comedy satire. In a nutshell, the movie centered around two journalists (Aaron Rapaport Dave Skylark) as they are tasked by the CIA to setup an interview with North Korea’s leader Kim-Jong-un to assassinate him. Naturally, the premise of the movie was deeply frowned upon in the nation of North Korea, threatening action against the United States if Columbia Pictures releases the movie. Adding more insult to injury, Sony Pictures (Columbia Pictures parent company) was hacked by group claiming ties to North Korea and further threatened the release of The Interview. It was then decided that the movie have a limited release as well as a digital download. Whether you liked it or not, The Interview did create a lot of “buzz” for viewers to see the movie. Now, coming down to a less-politically offensive attempt to get laughs, co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with director Jonathan Levine, presents the holiday comedy The Night Before. Does this movie bring “holiday laughs” or is it another generic half-baked stoner comedy?
Several years ago, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost both of his parents in a car accident, leaving the teenager without a family. Trying to lift Ethan’s spirts are his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), who establish a Christmas tradition, allowing the trio hang out and go crazy during the night before Christmas. Now, with Isaac expecting a baby with his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell), and Chris a celebrity due to his career in the NFL, the men aren’t that interested in their holiday excess and escapades anymore, with the trio agreeing to into New York City for one last “hurrah”. Coming across tickets the “Nutcracker Ball”, a secretive and legendary party that occurs every Christmas Eve night, Ethan is excited to make this night unforgettable, but as the friends hit the streets, comedic mishaps and stoner mischief begins to occur as each one must overcome personal obstacles and inevitably face their fears that hold them back.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I said, for better or worse, The Interview did make its “mark” on the general public. Personally, I’ve seeing bits and pieces of the movie, but haven’t watched the full movie in its entirety (but I plan to). Move on, I remember seeing the trailer for The Night Before and thought it was just another run-of-the-mill raunchy comedy movie that just had a Christmas twist into its mix. Thus, I never paid attention and had little interest in seeing the movie. However, I saw the red band trailer for the movie and laugh my butt off (and the several times after watching it again). With more prominent movies coming out (Mockingjay Part 2, Creed, and The Good Dinosaur), I pushed back seeing The Night Before until I saw and reviewed those movies first. Now, after finally viewing this movie, I found that The Night Before succeeds in its intended goal of blending holiday hijinks with stoner / adult comedy. It doesn’t raise the bar in its storytelling, but is still a funny yarn to spin.
Director Jonathan Levine, who has previously directed the movies Warm Bodies and 50 / 50, sets his sights on directing The Night Before as a whimsical Christmas fairytale for adults. Levine’s movie isn’t the first film to utilize the yuletide holiday as a narration backdrop, but, unlike how other movies sort of poke fun and parody Christmas season, The Night Before seems to celebrate spirit the holidays, with each of the main characters’ attempt to keep their own “Christmas joy” alive throughout the feature’s proceedings. Surprisingly, the movie plays to the standard Christmas movie troupes that one would expect to find in a holiday film, but in very unique and often humorous way.
At its core, stripping away all the R-rated laughs, The Night Before is more of a movie that’s about three friends growing up and tethering their relationships as their more personal “adult” lives take more precedent than it is a whimsical holiday film. Unfortunately, this is where the movie falters. While all the comedic jokes and gags hit their intended marks, The Night Before tends to lean more towards them than it does with its storytelling. Profoundly as it is, some of the narration elements in the story don’t quite land properly, resulting in some heavy-handed scenes that are not as smoothly presented as Levine intended.
Aside from that, The Night Before is definitely a solid R-rated movie. Packed with plenty of gags of sexual innuendo, drug usage, lude penis remarks, and somewhat crass jokes at pop culture, moviegoers, who are sensitive (or are to young) to such raunchy adult comedy jokes, might have to think twice when seeing this movie. Just because its touting as a Christmas film, doesn’t mean it’s a genuine crowd pleaser for the masses (I actually had an elderly couple leave halfway through the movie). However, Levine doesn’t get sidetracked or derailed by the movie’s adult humor, ensuring that the three main characters, and the film’s message / theme, remains relatable and somewhat endearing from onset to conclusion.
The three primary cast members of The Night Before are great as actors (in their respective acting careers) and seem to have taken Rogen’s previous roles into account, with each one presented with an inherit likeability and often silly charm. In the first act, Rogen, Mackie, and Gordon-Levitt don’t do much with their characters than just the standard comedy introductions, but their individuals characters are allowed to breathe and grow as the movie progresses into the second and third act. Gordon-Levitt’s Ethan is the trio’s “straight man”, acting as emotional backbone of the group with balance of holiday merrymaking and layered drama as some viewers might even sympathize with Ethan’s struggles (having gone through the same tragedy during the holidays). Perhaps the best performance of the trio (and producing the most laughs) is Seth Rogen’s Isaac, a loveable father-to-be, who struggles throughout the majority of the movie with an over-usage of drug related items. In the middle (but leaning more towards Rogen’s performance) is Anthony Mackie’s Chris, a big shot ladies’ man, who is lost in his own fame as professional football player. Again, all three deliver good performances with each actor getting their own moment to shine (some hilarious, some sincere) with an overall satisfying ending to their specific journeys’ of self-discovery.
The Night Before’s supporting cast features a collective group of comedy favorites. This includes Mindy Kaling, Tracy Morgan, and Jason Jones, along with one or two celebrity cameos that will definitely make you laugh. Perhaps the best supporting role in the movie is Michael Shannon’s Mr. Green, a character that’s a mixture of a stereotypical movie drug dealer and of a character from the holiday classic tale A Christmas Carol. Combined that with his mono-tone sounding voice, Shannon’s Mr. Green is indeed quite memorable in the movie. Other side characters include the up and coming talents from Jillian Bell (who many might remember from her role of Mercedes from 22 Jump Street) as Isaac’s wife Betsy and Lizzy Caplan’s Diana, Ethan’s former lover. These three (Shannon, Bell, Caplan) offer a good balance of well-intentioned humanity and crazy humor that makes their performances in The Night Before, as well as the film in general, so amusing.
Levine’s The Night Before performs exactly what it aims to do, a movie that’s both zany and entertaining for adult comedy genre. It’s a playful holiday film that has plenty of laughs, a collective group of likeable actors in its lead roles, and (as a whole) makes a sincere gesture as a Christmas movie. Still, the movie chooses its humorous premise and holiday spirt overtones over a cohesive story that (at various points) can’t land its own plane. If you liked their other raunchy adult comedies (Superbad, Knocked Up, and This is the End), then mostly likely you will find The Night Before enjoyable. Personally, I found it to be hilariously funny (especially Rogen’s parts) and a memorable holiday movie, but just out-of-reach of being a definitive classic. Ultimately, The Night Before will undoubtedly spread its holiday laughs and cheers this Christmas season (and perhaps the best Christmas themed movie of 2015) and sure to be fan favorite for years to come.
4.2 out of 5 (Recommended)
Reviewed on December 8th, 2015
The Night Before is rated R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity