Directed by Jonathan Levine. Produced by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, and James Weaver. Written by Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine, and Ariel Shaffir. Release date: November 25, 2015.
After getting a pretty terrible Christmas movie last week with Love the Coopers, now we’ve got a pretty funny one with The Night Before. Granted, they are very different movies – the former wants to be a “family” comedy/drama/romance, while the latter is an adult stoner comedy – but they’re both centered around the holidays, and both predictably preach about the importance of family, particularly around Christmastime, because if you don’t have anyone with whom to spend the holidays, your life has basically been ruined, apparently.
The Night Before stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie, the final of whom also appeared in Love the Coopers, although in less important (and more interesting and therefore wasted) role. The basic plot here is that Levitt’s character lost his parents before Christmas over a decade ago, and Rogen and Mackie have spent Christmas Eve with him every year since. But they’re grown up now, so this is going to be the final time. Fortunately, they have tickets to an exclusive party and are equipped with an extraordinarily large amount of drugs, so they’re ready for the night of their lives.
However, thanks to a varying degree of both internal and external influences, this doesn’t just become a party movie where the consequences are discovered afterward. It’s not Project X or 21 & Over, something for which I will be forever thankful. No, their problems start earlier than that, even if Rogen’s character spends the vast majority of the movie under the influence of a variety of drugs. No, The Night Before has more going on with it than that. As a result, not only are these characters more interesting, but the plot has more going on with it than following these people on a journey through New York City.
For instance, the Rogen character has a wife (Jillian Bell) who is far along in a pregnancy. While high, he records the best anti-baby tirade in cinema history onto his phone. Well, that phone gets lost, so one of the film’s subplots involves him trying to find it. Gordon-Levitt’s character is still pursuing The Girl That Got Away (Lizzy Caplan) while also dwelling on the past and using it as an excuse to avoid progressing forward in his life. Mackie is now a professional athlete who has a need to feel beloved by his teammates and fans – even though he paradoxically hates it when his mother parades him around. These subplots allow us to learn more about these characters than these types of comedies often allow, while also giving them more than enough of a chance to grow and learn, teaching the audience the film’s lessons in the process.
Every year there are only a few comedies that are genuinely funny, and The Night Before is one of the funniest of 2015.
That does mean that, especially at the end, the film gets schmaltzy. It is a Christmas movie, after all. You have to expect that going in. At its core, it’s a very sweet movie, even if to get to that core you have to chew through copious amounts of profanity and drugs. Even if The Night Before does get too eye-rollingly sincere at times, it never becomes so overbearing that you want to stop watching. The reason for that is ultimately why this is a successful comedy: it’s supremely funny.
Every year there are only a few comedies that are genuinely funny, and The Night Before is one of the funniest of 2015. Hardly a scene goes by without a big laugh – and usually more than one – with several managing to sustain laughter for literal minutes straight. Even without all of the other good elements, the number of laughs contained in this movie would make it worthwhile.
The Night Before has been directed by Jonathan Levine, who also directed 50/50, which also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. Given that 50/50 contains one of only a couple of good Seth Rogen performances – and The Night Before is another one – it appears that Levine is someone who understands how to get the best out of the actor. Rogen is the standout performer in this film, easily getting the biggest laughs as well as the largest number. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, by design, isn’t anywhere near as funny. Anthony Mackie gets a decent amount of laughs, too. There are a good number of supporting cast members who bring lots of comedy, too: Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling, Ilana Glazer, Miley Cyrus, and a cameo that you couldn’t bribe me to spoil.
While The Night Before may not be the funniest Christmas movie of all time, it’s up there, particularly if you’re a fan of stoner comedies. With an outstanding number of laughs, interesting and somewhat deep characters, numerous opportunities for both the audience and the characters to learn and grown, fantastic supporting work, and a plot that gives us more to do than just wander from place to place, The Night Before is pretty fantastic. It’s too schmaltzy, but it’s a Christmas movie, so that’s almost forgivable. It makes up for it with the amount of jokes it contains, anyway.
Bottom Line: A funny movie with a good plot and interesting characters, The Night Before brings some holiday joy to cinema screens.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of stoner comedies, or want a Christmas movie with a bit of an edge (and a soft center), The Night Before is worth checking out.[rating=3.5]