Review: ‘The Night Before’ is a Zany and Endearing Christmas Trip

By November 18, 2015
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What Seth Rogen and the rest of his comedy team have been able to do that few other talents have, is being able to make genre comedies. Much in the way Young Frankenstein is both a comedy and a send-up to classic horror films, Rogen has been making films in certain genres that both mock and hug them. Where This is the End was a comedy about a bunch of vain celebrities during the end of the world, the film also had some fairly horrifying elements as well, and was able to work as a good movie overall, rather than just a good concept – something that many comedies nowadays have failed to do. Going into The Night Before earlier this week too, I was looking forward to seeing if the familiar team would be able to pull it off again.

The film follows three best friends, when Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loses his parents through some tragic circumstances, and his friends, Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Isaac (Rogen), begin a Christmas tradition of going out and having as much fun as they can, in the hopes of pulling their friend from his grief. However, over a decade later and the trio have decided that the tradition must end as Isaac’s about to have a baby with his wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell), and Chris is in the middle of the best NFL season of his life. While Ethan isn’t quite as receptive to the idea, when he discovers three tickets to the legendary Nutcracker Ball, a party they’ve been trying to get into for years, he decides that their last Christmas outing will also be their best. No matter what.

What ends up happening is a crazy and often absurd series of events as each of the three friends try to come to terms with some of the realities of their lives, while also trying to get to the Nutcracker Ball in one piece. Other talented actors make appearances throughout including Lizzy Caplan as Diana – Ethan’s lost love, Mindy Kaling as Sarah – Diana and Betsy’s friend from work, Ilana Glazer as Rebecca Grinch, and perhaps the funniest in Michael Shannon’s Mr. Green – a drug-dealing figure from the trio’s past. All of the supporting players help to create a fully complete and functional ensemble, and Michael Shannon continues to prove himself as one of the most versatile actors in the industry, with Mr. Green achieving some of the heartiest laughs of the entire movie.

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Director and co-writer Jonathan Levine reunites with Rogen and Gordon-Levitt again following his stunning work in 50/50, the film that is not only one of the funniest films starring Rogen, but also brings about the best and most dimensional performance from the often comedic actor. His work both as a director and on the script is evident from the first few minutes of the movie, highlighting the plot and tone of the film with a certain kind of melancholy and heart that helps to accentuate the comedy for a majority of the run time. The emotional beats hit just as hard as the funny ones, and he continues to prove himself as one of the most capable filmmakers working in Hollywood today, even if a majority of his projects fail to achieve the long-lasting attention that they might deserve.

Which brings me to the three leads of the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes all of Ethan’s different quirks and fears, and helps to turn him into a completely dimensional person. His Ethan is the member of your friends who is most afraid of being alone, because he only ever feels alive when he’s not, and it’s because of this that you want to hug and comfort him at times, but also punch him straight in the face during others. Mackie’s Chris is the lovable jock from High School that all of us nerds wish could have been our friend, and Mackie provides the character with a constant sense of desperation that makes you think he was the one who always felt like the outsider, even if it didn’t seem that way on the surface. Dealing with some secrets that he’s too ashamed to live up to, Chris is one of the best examples of the way The Night Before plays with some familiar tropes, and turns them on their head.

I’ve mentioned Seth Rogen more than a few times already throughout this review, and its because I think he might give the best comedic performance of his career so far in The Night Before. Isaac spends a majority of the film tripping on the drugs that his wife gave him as a Christmas present, and because of this – Rogen is able to be as outrageous as wants throughout the film because in a majority of the scenes - he’s hallucinating because of the shrooms he’s on, and sweating because of the cocaine he’s snorted. He particularly shines during one inspired, and raunchy dinner table scene, in which all of his dialogue comes courtesy of voice over, and Rogen is able to translate that onscreen with merely his expressions. I was nearly toppling over laughing throughout many moments in the film directly because of Isaac, and it’s one of those few times where I could not have imagined anyone other than Rogen in this role. Considering the usual archetypal stoner character he plays too – that’s saying something.

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Perhaps the only real problem with The Night Before is how ambitious it actually is. The film is packed to the brim with story and references, and sometimes it feels all too much like that bubble is on the edge of popping. Fortunately for the filmmakers and audience goers, it never quite goes too far, seeming to know its limitations, while also testing them. This is a fun film, and while it might feel slightly strange to hear that The Night Before is this year’s first “Christmas movie”, by the time the film ends, you’ll realize just how truthful that actually is.

What makes The Night Before completely succeed as a movie though, is the way that it unabashedly loves those that it’s copying. The formula is familiar and the beats are apparent from the beginning, but then again, so are all Christmas movies, and the way The Night Before gets to each of the familiar story points is where it really shines. I found myself reminded of the Cornetto Trilogy from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost multiple times throughout the movie’s run time, and while I don’t think that The Night Before lands quite as powerfully as those three films, the similarities and themes are almost too apparent to ignore. I don’t know if those were the kind of movies that the creative team set out to emulate, but they managed to pay respect to them all the same.

Plain and simple, this is one of the most fun times you’ll have in the theatres all year. A love letter to several of the most iconic Christmas movies throughout history, while managing to be a wholly original and creative film in its own right too. The Night Before deserves every laugh it gets from its audiences, and when a character flies through the air because of some toy cars placed on the pavement in front of him, cursing Chris Columbus’ Home Alone for the whole world to hear, it does not feel cheap or forced – it feels earned.

The Night Before is set to hit theatres on November 20th.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable