The Night Before is about what you’d expect for a holiday comedy of this breed”

by Steve Pulaski

Despite the fact that stoner comedies, as a whole, are becoming more of a muchness in contemporary American cinema, I’d much rather show up to watch a project like The Night Before than a generic, wholesome family comedy like Love the Coopers, which emphasizes a cutesy family moral after giving us an hour of bathroom humor. From the opening sequence of the film – which has Tracy Morgan painting the picture of three inseparable best friends who come together ritualistically after one of them experiences a tragedy by using a corny, forced, and unapologetically stupid rhyme scheme of a bad poem – you know what you’re in for and you know whether or not the next one-hundred minutes will be spent in comedic bliss or cinematic agony.

The Night Before may not be the smoothest and funniest stoner comedy, as it follows up many of the hit-and-mess tendencies of A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, but it still warrants several laughs and a consistent aura of charm for the kind of film it wants to be. As stated, it concerns three friends, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie), three friends who came together when Ethan lost both of his parents over the holiday season when they were in their early twenties. Since then, they’ve made it a personal priority to spend the holidays with each other.

The Night Before
Directed by
Jonathan Levine
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie
Release Date
20 November 2015
Steve’s Grade: C

This Christmas, however, the group plans to make this outing their last, with Isaac expecting his first-born child with his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) any day now and Chris receiving a nearly unmanageable amount of fame with his career as a professional basketball player. Meanwhile, Ethan, while saying he is content with this being the gang’s final holiday outing, isn’t particularly fond of the idea of resorting back into morose loneliness, following a breakup with Diane (Lizzy Caplan) when he couldn’t make a serious commitment to meeting her parents (an admittedly cheap ploy at relationship conflict). While the group plan to tear up the town for one crazy night, especially after Betsy gives Isaac a small sample of “every known drug,” Ethan notices that his friends’ egos and self-interests begin to guide their decision-making for the night, in terms of allowing themselves to spend more time chasing after things for personal gain rather than spending time together as a whole.

If you look at The Night Before as a film in line with the principles of Judd Apatow-style comedies like Knocked Up and Superbad, then you’ll be seriously disappointed. The Night Before is less like those films and more like the aforementioned A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas or even last year’s The Interview, where the humor is predominately concerned with the inanity of its premise. In addition, this film is more of a parody of the classic Christmas fairytale/fantasy – a notion only solidified by such ridiculous plot-points as Miley Cyrus appearing at the exclusive party the trio of friends sneak invites to or the fact that Betsy obtained every illegal drug via Craigslist. The less seriously you accept the principles upon which The Night Before is founded, the better.

While Gordon-Levitt, Rogen, and Mackie do a nice job at being commendable screen presences throughout the film – especially Mackie, who holds his own weight in terms of energy alongside two proven comedic talents – the standout here is Michael Shannon, who has had a landmark year and just about nobody even cares. Shannon has played a cut-throat real estate agent in the can’t miss 99 Homes, a loyal and devoted friend to a lesbian couple being denied basic union rights in Freeheld, and a shady, but heartfelt drug dealer in this particular venture. This man, like Matthew McConaughey a few years back, deserves an Oscar for the variety and limitless range of his performances this year.

As a whole, The Night Before is about what you’d expect for a holiday comedy of this breed: it’s frequently warm, often very funny, occasionally too obsessed with male anatomy and homoerotic humor, brimful of energy and charisma, and never short in its ability to throw in new characters, quirky setups, or acute observations (such as Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” being a song with versatile uses) in the mix. When a film throws this much humor and narrative tropes into one screenplay, the result only becomes a bit messy. But like a great dessert, the look of the kitchen following the preparation of such a dish is to be expected; The Night Before, as a complete meal, is sweet and enjoyable, if a wee bit forgettable.