“Sometimes, being uncomfortable can be a good thing.”
The Night Before is a sloppy movie and as atypical of your standard clichéd Christmas fodder as you can get. Parts sag under its slovenly script, others are underscored, and some moments are just plain bizarre. All that being said – and then put to the side – we’re left with one of the year’s better raunchy comedies because it embraces male debauchery while acknowledging its own enabling characteristics. Its heart can feel too small, its fun too scattered, and at times becomes inconsistent in the delivery of its message. This picture has been haphazardly wrapped, but the gift inside still shows sincere thought, and while the forceful dips into unconvincing conflict bring the film down as a whole, you’re still guaranteed a laugh and then some. The Night Before bends plenty, yet it never actually breaks.
Orphaned during the Holidays as a young man, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plays the requisite mid 30’s male stuck in neutral. He’s an aspiring musician without ever really performing, still pining after his ex Diana (Lizzy Caplan) who he fearfully couldn’t commit to. Ethan’s family is now a surrogate one, made up of his two best friends from high school. Isaac (Seth Rogen, convincing as ever) is a married man to Betsy (Jillian Bell) with a child on the way and Chris (Anthony Mackie) relishes the spotlight as a top football player. They’re all different, and the best part of The Night Before is that it allows these men to be separate while together. Traits don’t bleed over from one to the next. But they always reteam on Christmas Eve for a night out hitting the same spots. The evening is their religious observance, and as is normally the case, things must come to an end and change. After 10 years, it’s time to move on from the tradition, or at least let it organically transform.
In the form of a Christmas miracle, Ethan stumbles upon and steals passes to an ultra-exclusive and secretive party that the men have never attended, running through the streets like Charlie with his golden ticket. And because this is a comedy from the minds of Rogen and production partner Evan Goldberg, plenty of drugs and booze are involved. The two have taken over the comedy realm previously owned by Adam Sandler, now making movies that are only funny because of how bad they are. Rogen and Goldberg specialize in exaggerated stoner fiction, but what makes their movies unique is their ability to place them in an honest landscape. Each one of these men is trapped and over the course of the film set out in search of what they think will make them happy, only to finally be confronted by hard truths. Jonathan Levine’s film is never short on dick jokes and hazy stupors, but it surprisingly denies instant male gratification, rarely allowing them to easily do or get whatever they please.
Good comedies are the hardest kind of movies to make, and in America at least, commonly the most poorly executed. That’s because, anymore, it is so easy to make somebody laugh by being stupid rather than smart and clever. The Night Before falls into the latter and made me laugh until I cried, but it also severely needed some rewrites. Our characters meet Mr. Green (a scene stealing Michael Shannon), the drug dealing ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. His scenes are always funny despite being clumsily and unevenly peppered throughout. And there are so many nods to Christmas films of old that the movie never really creates its own lasting impression. So even though its script is disheveled and the tone a little awkward, The Night Before deserves to be seen, not because it demands viewing, but because it rarely succumbs to cynicism or foolishness. Sometimes you just can’t go wrong with a gag gift, even it does quickly become disposable.
“Christmas was about family but now it’s about friends.”
Rating: 3 out of 5