In tune with the Christmas spirit, gross-out flick The Night Before includes a dash of naughty and a pinch of nice…but it’s definitely no Second Coming.
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Christmas movies come in two distinct types – they either become classics worthy of viewing throughout the year (anything from It’s a Wonderful Life to Gremlins) or forgettable, irritating garbage (anything starring Tim Allen). New comedy The Night Before sits somewhere in the middle – a fun and festive, but ultimately flawed reprieve from this season’s blockbusters and Oscar contenders.
Via rhyming, storybook narration, The Night Before introduces its three lead characters: back in 2001, Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes an orphan at Christmas after a drunk driver kills his parents. His best friends since high school, Isaac Greenberg (Seth Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie), promise to stick by him every festive season. Their Christmas Eve tradition soaks in New York City’s hidden treasures, enduring rituals including karaoke, Chinese Food, ugly knitted sweaters, and copious amounts of booze. Their quest revolves around searching for the city’s biggest party, the Nutcracka Ball. The film jumps to 2015, and Ethan – shifting between temp jobs without building upon his music ambitions – is still stuck in a rut. Isaac, who is expecting a child with wife Betsy (Jillian Bell), and Chris, a big-time NFL star, have reasons to cease the annual celebration, unlike Ethan. To liven up proceedings, Betsy gives Isaac a final-blowout stash of drugs. Let the games begin!
Fitting alongside Pineapple Express and The Interview, The Night Before is, once again, decorated with Rogen-isms. Backed up by right-hand-man Evan Goldberg as one of four credited screenwriters here, the comedic juggernaut eclipses his equally charismatic and likeable co-stars. His character’s storyline overshadows many of the other half-arsed, puzzling sub-plots; Ethan’s quest to find and win back ex-girlfriend Diana (Masters of Sex lead Lizzy Caplan) is given little development, and salvaged only by Levitt and Caplan’s chemistry.
However, director Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies) spikes this mix with dashes of heart and soul. Maintaining the balance of bromantic-comedy tropes, gross-out humour, and slapstick set-pieces, his comedic timing and restraint elevate this up-all-night flick above a conventional, self-indulgent Rogen and Goldberg vanity project.
Despite the flaws, Levitt, Rogen, and Mackie’s cracking chemistry and heart-warming performances make the nice and naughty moments whole. Their friendship adds to its themes, pointing out how family and friends add to the festivities.
The Night Before, at the very least, illuminates the true meaning of Christmas with as much intensity as the Rockefeller Centre tree, but with Rogen in charge, this comedy fails to soar to the heights of Santa’s sleigh. Maybe re-watch Love, Actually or Elf for the tenth consecutive year instead.
The Night Before is available in Australian cinemas from December 3rd
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures