James Cole Clay // Film Critic
THE NIGHT BEFORE is a raunchy comedy with many layers, but those layers intentionally don’t go that deep. It’s a holiday movie (given that two of the main characters are Jewish), a bromance and a love story. Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) hits for the cycle with his latest effort, but most importantly it’s funny in many surprising yet familiar ways.
After the 10-year long tradition of getting obliterated and causing a crowd-pleasing raucous on Christmas Eve, three lifelong buddies are tired of barfing up eggnog every December 24th and decide to put the tradition to rest, so they are going as big as possible on their way to the secret Nutcracka Ball.
Isaac (Seth Rogen), a successful lawyer has a wife, Betsy (the very funny WORKAHOLICS veteran Jillian Bell), and a baby on the way. In fact, he’s very good at playing house with Betsy; she describes him as the being the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of their relationship by emotionally holding it together during her pregnancy. Chris (Anthony Mackie) is a 34-year-old professional football player who’s finally hitting his stride because he’s hitting the needle equally as hard to boost his performance. Not to mention he’s a social media genius apparently, constantly documenting their occurrences, all sponsored by Red Bull. That leaves Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 33-year-old man working as a department store elf. He’s a pretty sad sack with very little going on in his daily routine.
As Gordon-Levitt has shown time and time again in his career, he can be the emotional center of the film. Isaac is struggling to express himself after the loss of his parents many years prior, as well as a recent breakup with Diana (Lizzy Caplan) that left him completely calloused. Rogen assumes the bumbling goofball role once again, but after all these years the schtick still works and he’s just as charming as he was a decade ago. His rendition of a bad mushroom trip will forever have a place in my heart and memory. And finally Mackie, who is best known for his dramatic roles, never misses a beat keeping up with the multiple jokes per minute pacing.
The films pays an immense amount of respect to Martin Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS, but this yule-tide tale is in a class completely on its own. It’s an affective film that wears many hats due to Levine’s confident direction.
The story is cleverly cloaked as a raunchy comedy. However, once that tone is set, Levine transforms the romp into an acid-tripped fairytale. Levine is more than adept at knowing when to make you laugh, make you cry (as he did in the astounding cancer-stoner comedy 50/50) and make you want to party. The gamut of emotions run in this film is in lockstep with the happy, sad and confused level of stress that comes along with planning for the holidays.
The comedic aspect is an easy sell. The screenwriters (Levine, Evan Goldberg, Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter) bring that and many more surprises to the table. This film cheekily fights against the conservatism of the holiday season with a joint in one hand and a plate of leftovers to take to the homeless shelter in the other. There’s a bevy of famous faces and characters that the three guys encounter on their night, but discussing them here will take away most fun of the viewing experience.
THE NIGHT BEFORE is molded into something audiences were least expecting. The jolting onslaught of familiar faces that pop up for cameos is infectiously fun fodder for a film that thrives on the spontaneity of a night filled with psychedelic drugs and ugly Christmas sweaters.
THE NIGHT BEFORE opens today.