To say I was underwhelmed by the trailers for Director Jonathan Levine’s latest, The Night Before, would be an understatement. The film looked to be a typical stoner comedy with none of the heart that I loved so much in his 2011 film 50/50. I’m glad I decided to see the movie anyway, because it might be the funniest film of the year.
The story centers on three friends, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) and their quest to attend the hottest Christmas Eve party in Manhattan. For ten years, the three friends have gotten together for a night of drunken revelry on Christmas Eve, a tradition that started when Ethan’s parents were killed right before Christmas by a drunk driver—no, if there’s one thing this film doesn’t grasp, it’s irony. However, after ten years, everyone’s lives are changing—Isaac is having a baby with his wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell), Chris is becoming more famous as an NFL player—but Ethan is stuck in neutral. He wants to be a musician, but won’t share his music with anyone and his fear of commitment led him to lose his girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan). Because life is intruding on the boys’ little makeshift family, the decision has been made that this will be the last year of the Christmas Eve debauchery. As is usually the case in films like this, several obstacles will present themselves as the boys try to get to the vaunted Nutcracker Ball party and all of them are hilarious. Chris, trying to impress the quarterback of his team (Aaron Hill), attempts to score some weed from local drug dealer, Mr. Green (Michael Shannon), while Isaac deals with his own freak out as Betsy has given him a box of random narcotics in which to enjoy himself after being her “rock” during the pregnancy. Meanwhile, Ethan tries to enjoy the last hours he has together with his best friends before life intercedes.
As usual with most of my reviews about comedies, I don’t want to spoil anything else because this movie is absolutely hilarious. I’m usually not one for stoner-type films, but this one knocks it out of the park mainly through the performances of the three leads and the heart that is at the core of the film. I will say that the dramatic elements are nowhere near as poignant as those in 50/50, which also featured Gordon-Levitt and Rogen as best friends, but while The Night Before does put a far heavier emphasis on comedy, there is something to be said about the filmmakers trying to give what could be a throwaway laugh-fest an emotional core. The weakest story probably belongs to Mackie’s character, but I think that’s because it’s hard enough to relate to a nationally-famous celebrity, but I also felt that other aspects of his storyline were kind of glossed over and handled very tidily. I would have liked a little more depth there, but the movie is really about Gordon-Levitt’s character and his journey to ultimately heal the wounds created by his parents’ deaths. Heavy material for a “stoner comedy.” The film also subverts some traditional tropes from Christmas films to hilarious effect.
The cast really makes the film and while Gordon-Levitt does a fine job as the emotional anchor of the film, it’s Seth Rogen who steals the show. His bad trip is fantastically funny and a non-stop jokefest as his drug-fueled paranoia forces him to deal with the fears he has about impending fatherhood. Mackie is good as always and does a fine job meshing with the chemistry Gordon-Levitt and Rogen have established in the past. Shannon is supremely funny as Mr. Green, turning his general public persona that he presents in other films on its head. He reminded me a lot of Jason Statham in Spy, where he also played on the audiences expectations to comedic effect. Caplan and Bell are also great as usual and the film world could use more movies with both of them. Mindy Kaling also puts in a nice appearance as Caplan’s friend. Her interaction with Rogen is very funny. There are several great cameos in here that I won’t spoil, but I will say that the appearance of one popstar, while tangently relevant to the plot, rankled me mainly because I can’t stand that person in general. However, her appearance didn’t ruin the film, it just felt gimmicky.
Overall, for whatever minor flaws The Night Before has, it is easily the funniest film of the year—thus far, we still have Daddy’s Home and Sisters to come. The chemistry between the leads is great and Seth Rogen is worth the price of admission alone. If you’re in the mood for a raunchy comedy this holiday season, make your pick The Night Before.