The Night Before is a raunchy laugh-out-loud holiday comedy about three friends giving their yearly Christmas tradition a proper sendoff. Ever since Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost both his parents on Christmas, his best friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have made sure he hasn’t had to suffer the holiday alone by taking him out and getting drunk every year. As Isaac is about to become a father and Chris’s football career has launched him into stardom, the friends have decided to make this year the last, and it’s a doozy.
The film sets up the friends’ history with it’s own take the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem, as read by the instantly recognizable voice of Tracy Morgan. What follows is kind of like The Hangover meets every Christmas movie ever made, and it’s thoroughly entertaining. There hasn’t been an R-Rated comedy this fun since This Is The End. It’s no coincidence that the same people are behind both. Surprisingly, Seth Rogen does not have a writing credit on this (just producer), it was penned by director Jonathan Levine (50/50) and Rogen’s writing partner Evan Goldberg. First time screenwriters Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter contributed to the script as well, both also worked on the upcoming Rogen/ Goldberg foul-mouthed animated comedy Sausage Party, so they’ve found themselves in good fuckin’ company.
The adventures take the boys all over New York City as they search for the super secret holiday party to end all holiday parties, “The Nutcracker Ball”, and we see how this story couldn’t take place anywhere else. There’s something about Christmas in NYC, all the lights, decorations and foil should seem gaudy but instead they dip the big apple in sweet caramel. This not only contributes to the aesthetic of the film, but recalls many beloved Christmas films the movie references, particularly Scrooged and Home Alone: Lost in New York.
The film’s biggest laughs come from a little box of drugs Isaac’s wife gives him for the occasion. Rogen has by far the most comedic chops of the three leads, which is emphasized by the fact that he does not share his drugs. Rogen gets to spend most of the film doing what he’s best at: being tooo high. He plays this so well, and every time he adds a new drug into the mix, we get to just sit back and wait for the hilarious results to take effect. We’ve seen this with him and mushrooms in both Knocked Up and Neighbors, but he really takes it to the next level here.
The other thing Rogen excels at is bromances, and there’s plenty of that in The Night Before. The relationship between the three friends is touching, but occasionally the film ventures into unnecessarily dramatic territory to give it some real-life stakes. The human aspects of the characters are already there: Isaac is afraid of fatherhood, Chris has succumbed the pressures of performance enhancing drugs, and Ethan is lost, lonely and wants his girlfriend back. These elements are necessary to make this more than just a movie about three guys getting fucked up, but when their issues lead them to have a falling out before the final act of the film, it feels like a forced narrative device when we’re all just eager to get to the Nutcracker Ball.
There’s a supporting cast of comedic genius here that cannot go unmentioned, particularly the females. Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling and Ilana Glazer are all indispensable cast members, even if their screen time is limited. There are also a bunch of great cameos that should not be spoiled (seriously, don’t be that guy… or spoil it for yourself by looking it up on IMDb). However, one role that really goes beyond being a cameo is Michael Shannon, who uses his innate intensity to steal every scene he’s in.
As far as drug and alcohol fuelled odysseys through New York City on Christmas eve go, The Night Before is one of the best. It’s the kind of adventure we all wish we could have, but would have serious consequences if we did. In the end, it’s a funny outlandish fantasy with some real heart and somethign to say about friends, family and holiday spirit. With the likes of Love the Coopers being its only Christmas comedy competition, The Night Before has the kind of box office potential that will likely spawn a sequel or two.