Saturday, December 12, 2015

"The Night Before" Review: An Entertaining Mix Of Holiday Cheer And Excessive Drug Use


Holiday films are like holiday treats, you can make traditional ones like sugar cookies and eggnog which despite their inherent lack of imagination are still tasty and satisfying. But then you have the more gourmet and experimental stuff that will likely only appeal to a limited few and satisfy a craving for something they didn't even know they wanted. Holiday movies are the same way, you have your Miracle on 34th Street and It's A Wonderful Life, but you also have your Scrooged and Gremlins which all revolve around the holidays and provide their own special brand of Christmas spirit. Can you guess which category the latest film from Seth Rogen and company falls into? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital             
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 41 min
Studio: Sony Pictures 
Release Date: November 20, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: This Is The End
Likes: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, The Interview
Neutral:  Neighbors
Hates: That we don't get more holiday movies like this
Best film to film running gag goes to?: Seth Rogen and James Franco for perpetuating the silly idea that they are gay for each other.


When Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents in a car crash his two closest friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) begin a holiday tradition where the three of them go out the night before Christmas each year and do all sorts of activities in the hopes of helping Ethan remember how great life can be. That tradition is about to come to an end however as Isaac is about to become a father and Chris' celebrity status as a star NFL player give each of them little time to devote to their annual holiday hang out. Knowing it is the last year they will ever get together Ethan, who is still licking his wounds after breaking up with his girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan), decides to make it their best Christmas ever by obtaining tickets to the one party that had eluded the trio every year, the Nutcracker Ball.

The Night Before will have limited appeal to an already limited target audience which is a shame really. It has plenty of inventive twists on holiday themes along with plenty of good tidings and a fairly effective message dealing with the pains of becoming a responsible adult and bidding farewell to the days of recklessness. However, that message gets tangled up into a vast array of drug and sex jokes that have a difficult time finding that perfect harmony it so desperately wants to achieve resulting in a film experience that feels as if it is trying to please two different audiences when it should just be comfortable being the raunchy holiday romp it sets itself up to be.


It certainly means well though and does deliver on each front with both the holiday spirit and a raunchy sense of humor even if it has a hard time combining the two from time to time. Take for instance Isaac's story where he is about to become a father and has been the sole source of emotional support for his pregnant wife (Jillian Bell). Unbeknownst to his wife and friends is how he has been freaking out inside which just so happens to be the catalyst for one of the film's most outrageous and borderline irredeemable character moments when Isaac confesses to his cellphone that he isn't ready for a baby. That sub plot works more or less and has a rather sweet payoff at the end but there are moments, such as a hallucinatory visit to the future where he envisions his daughter as a stripper, that felt like a little much.

Chris' story is probably the most effective in how it depicts a man lost in his own search for fame so much as to have lost perspective on his entire life. We see this through his standoffish interactions with Ethan and Isaac when a little matter of obtaining some drugs for his fellow football players threatens to unravel their entire final night together and through his embarrassment over how he has managed to stay relevant in the NFL even at his older age (here's a hint, he takes steroids). But where his story really hits home on an emotional level is the relationship he has with his mother and his friends which which wasn't only satisfying to see unfold but also slightly touching.


Ethan's story however isn't as interesting or as fully developed as the other two unfortunately. While the established story at the very outset of two friends coming to a third's aid during a dark time in his life is without doubt at the heart of the film, it is the individual story involving Ethan's ex-girlfriend which is a little underwhelming. Aside from a surprise cameo near the end of the film that provides Ethan a rather large stage to profess his love (quite literally mind you) their connection is barely felt and works purely based on the charisma of both Levitt and Caplan who both inject a lot more personality into their characters than what was likely on the page. Ethan still gets his emotional payoff though in regards to the bigger picture as we watch him struggle to make this final night with his friends into something special which helps make up for the fact that his search for love feels so generic.

On that note we should discuss the brand of humor used in the film which for anyone familiar with Seth Rogen's previous work (This Is The End, The Interview, Knocked Up) will sort of know what to expect but doesn't make it any less jarring when the film decides to shift from heartwarming holdiay film to a stoner comedy all of a sudden. Although that may sound more damning than it actually is because for any issues the film has at balancing the two genres it doesn't make the funny bits any less funny just so long as they work which is probably the bigger problem since some of the gags are hit or miss.


When the jokes in The Night Before hit though they hit big. There were a large number of hysterical moments and just as many smaller jokes that were without a doubt some of the funniest stuff found in any film this year, comedy or not. The aforementioned scene with Isaac confessing his insecurities into his phone was a little awkward for sure but Rogen's drug induced anxiety really helped sell it. As a matter of fact Rogen's night long drug trip was one of the more consistently funny gags in the entire film and resulted in a one of, if not the funniest single scene I had seen in any film this year which featured a panic stricken Rogen sexting a male stranger on his phone that cannot be done justice simply by explaining it. You really need to see it to understand the level of comic genius at work as it left me in tears by the end.

Another running gag that got better with every passing moment was with the recurring character called Mr. Green (Michael Shannon). While the character itself is more or less the film's version of all the ghosts from A Christmas Carol, past, present and future with how he gives each of the three friends a moment of reflection (and their drugs), it is Shannon's scene stealing performance that makes the character a true standout. There is another cameo near the end of the film that is also responsible for some big laughs but giving that one away would take away from the surprise. Suffice it to say that once that mystery character appears it will make perfect sense and make you wonder why you would have thought it could have ever been anyone else.


The last time Levitt and Rogen teamed up on screen they delivered one of the biggest cinematic gut punches ever with the emotionally devastating 50/50, but this time their aim is to provide audiences with a fun holiday diversion that is both heartwarming and hysterically non-PC. The Night Before is in the tradition of other holiday treats like A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas or Bad Santa where it isn't just sweet but salty as hell. Your mileage will vary for sure depending on how open minded you are but if you found either of those two films entertaining then chances are you will find some good times with what is sure to become another holiday staple for those of us who like to celebrate the holidays in unorthodox ways.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

The Night Before is exactly what it was meant to be, a holiday infused comic romp. Thanks to a likable cast, some very funny moments if a bit raunchy (it certainly earns that R rating) and some real holiday spirit the film is a success. It won't become the next holiday classic or anything but if you are in the market for a film that will make you laugh while also reminding you of the spirit of Christmas, The Night Before will fill that void.

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