The Night Before

The Night Before

Jonathan Levine reteams with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for The Night Before; another comedy that blends raunchy with heart in a way previously only accomplished by Judd Apatow. The movie works on every level and made even this Christmas curmudgeon happy to be a part of the holiday traditions of these three (fictional) friends.

Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents in a tragic accident days before Christmas. Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) forced their friend out of his depression with a night of what would turn out to be an epic night of partying and silly traditions. For fifteen years the friends held onto these traditions but life starts getting in the way. Isaac is an expecting father, Chris is an athlete who has finally hit his stride and getting exceptionally famous. Ethan lives very much like he did over a decade before, unintentionally using his past tragedy as a crutch and excuse to lean into.

The trailers make the movie look like what you’d expect from a typical Seth Rogen comedy. Drug jokes, dick jokes, and jokes about being a Jew around Christmas everything. These are all parts of the movie, and honestly don’t disappoint or feel old at any point. Where The Night Before really grabs audiences is also probably the place that ostracizes them. This movie has a big heart and through all the smoke, shrooms, and coke deals with some seriously heavy subject matter. Not quite as intense as Levine’s first feature with Rogen and Levitt, 50/50, the heart of the movie was a welcome surprise. The trailers made the movie look like a 90 minute excuse to laugh, but ultimately something you’d forget about by the time you cleared the parking lot. The Night Before rises above those expectations.

It may seem strange to talk about acting in a movie like this, but no one in the cast phones it in. Gordon-Levitt does the majority of the heavy lifting. His character is broken. He starts the movie working a dead end job, deals with letting the girl of his dreams go because of commitment issues, and tackles the trauma of a teen losing his parents. Rogen plays a version of what people perceive Rogen to be in real life. The drug trip grows and morphs throughout the movie in hilarious ways. Even though the joke goes for almost a full ninety minutes it’s still funny as the movie starts to wrap up. The writers did just enough with it. Mackie, who is having a phenomenal surge in his career, plays something of the straight man to these two, but he gets to have his fun as well.

The supporting cast is equally as strong. Lizzy Caplan plays Diana, the love interest to Gordon-Levitt’s Ethan. Caplan is as charming as always but gets to play standoffish and unsure. Her performance is subtle and done with limited screen time but it’s important the way she connects with Ethan as well as the audience. The always intense Michael Shannon is a scene stealer as the small time drug dealer, Mr. Green. Mr. Green has a little more going on than it first appears but when he’s the best is in his small scenes with deep monologues and scenarios that are off putting and uncomfortable to the rest of the cast. Miley Cyrus makes a surprise appearance that, even more surprising, isn’t terrible. She is actually very funny as an actress. She plays a version of herself so it isn’t a huge stretch but she does poke some fun at herself which humanizes her a lot. Tracy Morgan, Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, and James Franco (also playing a strange version of himself) also show up in limited capacities that are welcome and hilarious.

The filmmaking aspects of The Night Before are worth pointing out. Many comedies don’t do anything directorial special, not to downplay the job or the work that goes into it. The blend of special effects, editing choices, clever angles, and great scene staging really gets the audience into the character’s heads as well as the emotional state for every scene. This movie goes from a high of laughing at Seth Rogen’s character contemplating taking one in the mouth to a poignant scene of growing up and moving on from the comfortable familiar at the drop of a hat. That is not an easy feat to pull off.

However not everything is shiny and brilliant. The soundtrack of the movie leaves a lot to be desired. Of course this is incredibly subjective since it is a Christmas movie, but the same old tried and true Christmas songs over almost every scene are enough to make you cringe. Most multiplexes are in malls and just walking through the mall to get to the box office you’ll hear half the soundtrack against your will. Adding the same ones into the movie make it grating. Some originality here may have been a good call. The movie also feels long at times. A 101 minute runtime is hardly a long movie but towards the end the gags, while still funny, repeat themselves a little. A couple cuts and a runtime of 90 minutes flat would really tighten this up.

At the very least you’ll get an hour and a half of laughs out of The Night Before, clever and not. If you’re in it for the plot you won’t be disappointed. If you want more raunch and no heart I think Adam Sandler has something coming out on Netflix soon.

Adam’s Verdict 4/5

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