Release Date: Nov. 20, 2015
Director: Jonathan Levine
Writers: Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir & Evan Goldberg (screenplay), Jonathan Levine (story)
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell
MPAA Rating: R
At this point, the Seth Rogen comedy has become its own genre. His face on the screen is a promise that you’re going to get a hard-R-rated comedy with lots of drug jokes, manchildren needing to grow up and playful celebrity cameos.
The Night Before doesn’t deviate from this formula. If you’ve seen the previews, you know what this movie is and, based on your feelings of Rogen’s previous work, you know whether you are likely to enjoy it or not. But while this film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, there are a few things that set it apart from Rogen’s other films.
First and foremost is casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the film’s protagonist. Ethan is your standard Rogen protagonist, a guy in his 30s who never grew up and is clinging to his childish ways even as everyone else in his life is comfortably settling into adulthood. For good measure, Ethan is hung up on his ex Diana (Lizzy Caplan), who he lost when he refused to meet her parents because he felt things were moving too fast. You’ve seen characters like Ethan in these films before (often played by Rogen), but Gordon-Levitt elevates the character, infusing an emotional depth that hasn’t been there before. I was genuinely invested in Ethan’s story arc instead of simply viewing it as a prerequisite to drive the plot.
In a similar bit of great casting, the film is also elevated by the inclusion of Michael Shannon as Mr. Green, a mysterious pot dealer our heroes keep crossing path with. Mr. Green is The Night Before‘s version of the magical characters who often show up in Christmas films to guide our heroes on their spiritual journeys.
Also satirizing typical Christmas conventions is Ilana Glazer’s Rebecca Grinch. Rebecca finds inspiration in cinema’s great Christmas villains – The Grinch, Hans Gruber and the Sticky Fingers Bandits. And she is dedicated to ruining the night for NFL star Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie).
The film’s plot is quite simple. Ethan, Chris and Isaac (Seth Rogen) are high school friends who formed a special Christmas tradition 14 years ago. When Ethan’s parents died unexpectedly, Chris and Isaac decided to take him out for a crazy night of drugs, debauchery and hijinks. This night out became an annual tradition.
But 14 years later, Chris and Isaac are ready to move on. Chris has become a big NFL star with endorsement deals and a huge social media following. And Ethan is married with his first kid on the way. Their annual night out has grown stale, so they decide to make this year the last one. Ethan, though, isn’t quite ready to move on.
For their final get together, Ethan wants to make it extra special, which is why he steals three tickets to the Nutcracker Ball, a legendary underground party they’ve never been able to attend. Ethan, enjoying his last moments of freedom before having a child, is gifted a box of drugs from his wife so that he can go out with one last hurrah. And Chris, enjoying his newfound fame, is seeking to score points with his new NFL friends.
Chris’ storyline is a bit ridiculous and feels like it was written by someone who isn’t a big sports fan. Chris has supposedly been a mediocre player for his entire career, but now in his 30s, he started using steroids and got good. As even the film acknowledges, most players careers are winding down by the time they are Chris’ age. If he was a mediocre player, it’s likely he would have washed out of the league years ago. And if he did suddenly get good this late in his career, it’s likely the NFL would have drawn the same conclusion his friends did, which is that he’s juicing. (He also buys and smokes pot in the film, which is something else the NFL tests for.) In the grand scheme of the film, I suppose this isn’t a huge deal, but I have to imagine I’m not the only sports fan who will raise an eyebrow at this plotline.
Ethan and Isaac’s story lines are handled much better. It’s fun watching Seth Rogen take way too many drugs and have a variety of bad reactions to them. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt elevates Ethan’s story above its predictable arc. Plus, the film is filled with a variety of cameos from comedic actors (and a certain pop star) that keep the momentum going.
The Night Before is one of Seth Rogen’s better paced comedies. And it’s definitely one of the best acted ones. It may not reinvent the wheel, but if you are looking for a heartfelt adult comedy to help you get through the holiday season, you’ll certainly enjoy it.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org