It’s a (stoner) holiday miracle!
I feel like its been a while since the last raunchy comedy, which I think was Trainwreck back in July. That’s not to suggest that I wish there were more R-rated comedies flooding the market, but I do think I was primed for a movie like The Night Before. I wanted a stupid, profanity-filled, drug-trippin, buddy comedy (in this case, a threesome bromance) and I wasn’t disappointed. Sprinkle in a bit of holiday cheer for good measure and add a pinch of well-timed celebrity cameos for extra zest! The Night Before is 70% unadulterated stoner comedy, 20% heart, and 10% holiday spirit, and I enjoyed 99% of it! (the other 1% was a very disappointing final 60 seconds).
Director Jonathan Levine has a knack for highlighting childish humor within adult dramas—like from a zombie romance in Warm Bodies and a young man’s cancer in 50/50. The Night Before, which reunites Levine with 50/50 stars Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is definitely Levine’s most straight-up comedy. But there’s a lot of heart as well, since we get a few genuine emotional moments dealing with aging, tragedy, heartbreak, and friendship. The story revolves around a trio of friends, Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), who created a Christmas tradition of getting drunk and/or stoned while out on the town after Ethan’s parents died in a car accident. Fourteen years later Isaac is becoming a family man, Chris is unexpectedly rising to professional football fame, meanwhile Ethan is in a recent rut due to a breakup and inability to move on, and the three decide to call this night their last hurrah. And wouldn’t you know it, Ethan fumbles upon three tickets to a mysterious party that had eluded their searches for the past 14 years. And so, like a Christmas bachelor party, the three head out for a night of debauchery—hitting up toy stores, singing karaoke, eating Chinese food, taking drugs and drinking booze…and ultimately facing each of their own personal demons.
Seth Rogen has never been funnier (I gave this statement a fair amount of thought before declaring it). His drug-induced jitteriness and unbridled antics produce a majority of the film’s belly laughs. He sheds much of his man-child dopiness that chased him across nearly every role he took in favor of playing a grown up version of many of his other roles, now incapable of handling strong drugs. Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand, remains fairly close to recent form here, playing a lovable heartsick loner at odds with his friends about the best way to move forward (like he did in 500 Days of Summer and 50/50). Mackie is the newcomer here, joining previously proven chemistry between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt, as well as a quasi Judd Apatow-esque produced tone, and he does a great job carrying his own against seasoned funny folks.
But despite the constant flow of laughs, The Night Before is still kind of a mess. Scenes begin and end without any connection to the adjacent scenes. The plot plays out like a series of vignettes, with thin connectors stringing them all together. If it wasn’t for some patient character development and a bit of shmaltz to make the whole thing go down smooth, it would be a funny disaster. But to credit the holiday shmaltz, and there are some very shmaltzy scenes, the holiday moments do a nice job of grounding the movie when it starts getting too out of control. It’s for this reason that The Night Before is a better go-to holiday adult comedy than predecessors like Bad Santa and A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. There’s enough heart to counteract and add meaning to the lunacy that occurs. And with a plethora of shout outs and homages to other holiday classics, The Night Before is daring itself to be the movie marathon finale at adult Christmas (and Hanukkah) parties for years to come. Cheers to that!
The Night Before opens in theaters Nov. 20th.