Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie team-up with director Jonathan Levine to bring us The Night Before, a raunchy, blatantly offensive yet at the same time downright hilarious comedy, sprinkled with a little holiday spirit.
The movie follows friends Ethan Miller (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac Greenberg (Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Mackie) who, since the death of Ethan’s parents in 2001, have an annual tradition of hanging out on Christmas Eve and serving as Ethan’s surrogate family. In 2015, they decide to end this tradition but when Ethan finds three tickets for the ‘Nutcracker Ball’, the boys eventually decide to follow their usual tradition and attend the party. And so, hilarity ensues.
Already from the get-go you can tell this movie does not have the most original plot. In effect, it plays out very much like any ‘bro-trip’ would. However, these characters have a lot more to them than your average comedy two-dimensional characters. There is an arc for each of them, and some of the experiences they go through are surprisingly relatable and real, and not as goofy or forced as you would expect.
Joseph Levine, director of 50/50 and Warm Bodies always seems to deliver films somewhere in the spectrum between drama and comedy, balancing these two elements perfectly. Needless to say this movie, although closer to the comedy side than drama, has some emotional (and at times heartbreaking) moments which caught me unexpectedly, but pleasantly, surprised. All three of the characters are forced to evolve throughout the movie, something which takes its toll on their friendship. Much of this movie is expected to be goofy but at the same time is very relatable, thanks in part to the fantastic script. This is what I felt made the emotional part of the movie all the more believable, heartfelt, and compelling, something unexpected, that other similar movies have failed in achieving (take Harold and Kumar for example).
It is essential to mention that what made this even more engaging is the actors. The chemistry between these three simply bounced off the screen. The three of them interact so organically even though they are extremely different people and it felt so real I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that halfway through the movie they all forgot they were acting and just started having fun with it. At the same time, they all had their plot lines that required dramatic effort from the actors, something they all pulled off very well, not surprising as each of them has proven before they can tackle comedy and drama with ease (most recently Seth Rogen in Steve Jobs). Michael Shannon shines as drug dealer Mr. Green – definitely over-the-top, but the hilarity of his character is undeniable. A few cameos were also impressive, especially a James Franco appearance that had me hunched forward in my seat, gasping for air.
Now the definitive and simple question you must ask yourself to determine if a comedy was good: was it funny? In this case, painfully so. The comedy is both goofy and over-the-top, which is very characteristic of raunchy comedies like this (but hey if it ain’t broke) but also oddly relatable at times as well. Be warned however, it is a type of comedy that thrives on offensive humor, something I personally find exhilarant but is not for everyone. Something that worked very well especially was the way that the “Christmas” theme was not only reflected in the plot, but was also very relevant in the humor, including a hilarious take on a classic Christmas story.
Finally, it is easy to dismiss this movie as formulaic but such a statement misses a lot of this movie’s heart. It’s a movie that I can see myself returning to, especially this time of year, as it is heart-warming as far as a raunchy, blatantly offensive comedy can be.
When Christmas and raunchy comedy mix, it can be a hit or miss, but fortunately The Night Before is as hilarious as it is heartening and definitely worth adding to your Christmas marathon.