Nothing quite says Happy Holidays like three intoxicated friends adorned in ugly Christmas sweaters parading across the big screen, especially when that trifecta consists of Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie. Director Jonathan Levine nails the feel good Holiday film with The Night Before. The wickedly hilarious plot, a quest to attend the ultimate Christmas Eve bash deemed the Nutcracker Ball, follows three different storylines intersecting through the dissolve and resurrection of friendship. The Night Before is your standard male last hurrah film, succeeding in conjuring up laugh out loud moments and faulting itself as most modern comedies do with a tidy ending resolving all loose ends.
Deviating from the traditional male duo films such as I Love You Man, Dumb and Dumber and Wayne’s World to simply name a few, Levine delves head first into the Holy Trinity. The Night Before takes you on a wild Red Bull limo of a ride through a final attempt at an annual Christmas tradition between the best of friends, including, but not limited to a visit to the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, karaoke, and a N64 Goldeneye show down. The tradition to celebrate together on Christmas Eve stems from Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loss of both of his parents to a drunk driver as a young adult. This event among many catapult Ethan who acts as the heart of the film into an abyss of nothingness. He has no direction, no girlfriend and finds himself at 33 years old as a cocktail waiter. As the night unfolds, his personal quest is revealed to regain his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Diana (Lizzie Caplan) who annoyingly and conveniently pops up at just the right times throughout the film. Thus, Ethan gets his second chance at love and an opportunity to resuscitate all his relationships.
Ethan’s compatriots Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) find themselves in completely opposing lifestyles. Isaac the comedic pulse through the film is a terrified expectant father with a hall pass to a night of drug fueled debauchery courtesy of his wildly entertaining Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson wife Betsy (Jillian Bell). This pivotal moment alone gives way to the funniest parts of the film, picture Isaac vomiting in a Hanukkah sweater in the middle of midnight mass, engrossed in a dick pic conversation at a Christmas Eve dinner or cock blocking Mindy Kaling. Then there is Chris. He is your typical social media obsessed athlete soaking in his fifteen minutes of fame and pumping his body with steroids. Cue the overzealous religious mom and a park for crack heads named after him and you have the charming Chris in a nutshell.
All three of these characters are vastly different, but in all their oddities come together to rally and prove that some friends are forever. The tone of the film seems light hearted, but hits on some heavy themes from the inexplicable impact of loss to the desire to find a sense of belonging. Ethan has no biological family anymore and relies on Isaac and Chris to provide a sense of home. Isaac is unsure how to navigate the foreign landscape of fatherhood and Chris cannot seem to find his footing in the world of professional athletes. In the end, the sentiment remains that regardless of time spent away from each other or the differing paths they are on, the three men have a true bond that is unbreakable. Case and point, fast forward to a scene nearing the end when Isaac and Chris refuse to leave a party without Ethan.
Levine’s screenplay is a riot and he does a phenomenal job of assembling a cast and crew that congeals with each other perfectly. For instance, Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) the guys’ pot dealer and self-proclaimed Gatsby is a constant segway to humorous bits and acts as the voice of reason through the film catapulting each character to moments of clarity. Other standouts include cameos by Ilana Glazer, James Franco and narration from the comeback king himself Tracy Morgan.
Levine litters the film with stoner friendly moments reminiscent of Pineapple Express and This Is The End with practically the same cast, yet manages to pull away and offer a pulse to a film about male friendship through flashbacks. Toss in a fun-filled soundtrack, a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa mash-up and Levine has the recipe for moments of comedy gold.
The Night Before is must-see this Holiday season and don’t be surprised when it becomes your annual tradition to watch it for a few good laughs.
The Upside: You will roll on the floor laughing from Rogen’s performance alone.
The Downside: You may want to vomit from a cheesy duet between Gordon-Levitt and Miley Cyrus.