The reluctance to “grow up” and the deciphering of what a friendship really is are two of the themes one can now expect when walking into a Seth Rogen-produced and starring picture. The formula Judd Apatow helped solidify with the likes of Superbad and Knocked Up has seen varying levels of success over the years, and despite this new comedy not quite reaching the heights of some of those early hits, The Night Before deserves strong credit for delivering what it promises on the packaging: laughs.
The Night Before sees Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing three buddies that have made a tradition of spending Christmas Eve together since the death of Ethan’s (Levitt) parents. Their Nights Befores have consisted of mostly being drunk and high, and looking for what they consider to be the Holy Grail of Christmas Parties – the Nutcracka Ball. Now that Rogen’s Isaac is about to be a father and Mackie’s Chris has become a superstar athlete (using dubious methods), the three decide this is the night they’ll finally hit up that coveted bash.
The film jumps straight into it, with a mildly amusing opening narration by Tracy Morgan that skirts around any sort of layered backstory. The Night Before wants to get to their night out, and it does so with no fuss. Gunning the plot in a comedy is by no means rare, but we’re thrown into their shenanigans almost too quickly here, as though we’re supposed to already know these guys and their quirks. While that may be somewhat true with Rogen’s comfortable on-screen persona, a little more background knowledge regarding Ethan and Chris may have provided a little more understanding of the group’s chemistry and, later, decisions. It may have even helped some of those punchlines land even harder.
Nevertheless, being thrown in the deep end helps introduce the film’s energy and tone early. As soon as Isaac ingests that first hallucinogen, you know you’re in for a wild night out. Director and co-writer Jonathan Levine, who worked with both Rogen and Levitt in the fantastic dramedy 50/50, has a good handle on his material here, keeping momentum going through scenarios that manage to be both outlandish and realistic. Although, as can be common in movies set in one city over one night, the plot tends to rely on coincidences a little too heavily for comfort.
Our three leads are completely at home here, as though they’re always in each other’s company. While these characters don’t seem to be much of a leap for the talents of Rogen, Levitt, and Mackie, the three nail their respective roles and deliver in spades when it comes to convincing of a group dynamic. Rogen’s drug-fuelled antics become more hilarious as they go on, which points to the actor’s ability to engage with an audience’s comedic senses despite hitting similar beats time and time again.
If there’s one thing The Night Before has that truly makes it a film worthy of seeing, it’s the balancing of the Christmas spirit, the Christmas movie, and a determination to thrust home crude humour. The film makes no secret as to what it aims to achieve, and it’s ultimately refreshing when the film moves along its irreverent shenanigans to become a film about friendship and, yes, Christmas.
The Night Before doesn’t break the mould when it comes to adult comedies, but it does its aforementioned balancing act nicely. Whether you’re a grinch or a red nose-wearing Christmas fanatic, The Night Before is the equivalent of that fuzzy, giddy feeling you have after drinking just the right amount of eggnog.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10