The Night Before Review: A New Christmas Classic

Chad White
Loves: JGL, Rogen and my boy Anthony Mackie
Likes: Jillian Bell and Lizzy Caplan. True comedy sweethearts.
Dislikes: Drugs.
Hates: That there’s not enough Tracy Morgan!

Miley was flawless

Christmas movies come and go but few stay in the ether that is the traditional holiday film. Will Ferrell’s Elf hit all the right notes for people of every age but Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol lived and died in the uncanny valley in which it resided. Aside from the few scant exceptions, there hasn’t been a fully adult Christmas movie. Now we have that in the form of Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before and, boy, is this movie a treat. It follows Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie as three friends who celebrate Christmas together following the death of Gordon-Levitt’s parents some 14 years prior. In a weird turn, the movie has more heart than expected and plays to the laughs well while simultaneously building and breaking relationships along the way.

I’m going to start off by saying that I’m not a huge fan of drug humor. I get the appeal and sure it can be funny at times but I find it to be a lazy crutch used by writers to get characters to do weird things. That being said, Seth Rogen’s Issac is on drugs for 80% of the movie and it just works. His character is crippled with anxiety and fear after the smorgasbord of narcotics his wife gives him for the special night making for a constant source of laughs. The same could be said about JGL’s fun seeking yet obviously copping with oncoming depression Ethan. Really, the weakest character is Mackie’s Chris who is a famous athlete that’s only there to promote Red Bull and his Sony Xperia phone (good job, Sony Pictures). But they all have their moments of great jokes and even better one liners. The three are joined by a multitude of side characters that each take advantage of their screen time. Jillian Bell is charming but underutilized as Rogen’s wife; Mindy Kaling is a blessing as Lizzy Caplan’s friend who is also decent but a cardboard cutout; and Michael Shannon is unrecognizable as the insightful drug dealer Mr. Green.

Director/co-writer Jonathan Levine did well shooting the movie. The first act has the movie come off as a straight comedy. It isn’t until the actual night of festivities that the Christmas aspect rears its head. Quick cuts, cheery music and bouncy dialogue help usher the show along. That’s probably all thanks in part to Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir all of whom were able to make the movie move along at a fine rate. There are some negatives, however. Tracy Morgan is the narrator but he’s only used for the first minute and the last scene. Cameos are far between one another. Sure, the movie’s not supposed to be based around them but one would expect a generous spread. And there’s this dangling carrot of “we’re friends but we have different goals so we’re breaking up” that keeps happening. It’s a thing in buddy comedy movies that happens all the time and it does nothing but slow down the action.

That’s where things get interesting though. These guys leave each other often, with mostly Mackie and Rogen taking leave, which makes the end goal that much farther. But, at the same time, there are some defining character moments that occur with each break up. JGL learns that he doesn’t want to be alone anymore, Rogen learns he is ready to be a father, and Mackie finds that he’s lying to himself in his fame. Another overused trope has Lizzy Caplan and JGL’s characters on the outskirts of a breakup but obviously coming back together. This leads to Caplan’s character being the aforementioned two dimensional character thus making parts of the movie seem predictable as the story telegraphs the eventual reconciliation of the two.

Should you watch The Night Before?

Don’t sleep on this movie. Like I said previously, I was not keen on the drug based humor for a character but it works. It’s also nice to see Anthony Mackie do more comedy. And the chemistry between all of the characters is on point, much like Chris’ social network game (please watch the movie to get that reference, however lame it may be). And really, we all wanted to see Miley Cyrus say the word “fuck.” Like, twice.