The Night Before is a Christmas movie for 90s Kids. With its references to Home Alone, the Nintendo 64 classic “Goldeneye” and its karaoke/music selections, this film feels like the first in a new, not to be confused with groundbreaking, run of holiday flicks.
The story is of three friends who gather together each Christmas to party all across New York City, with a rumored mega-shindig their annual destination that has never been found. Though childhood pals, they were first brought together after Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents in a fatal car-crash. With no remaining family, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) do their best to make sure the best bud doesn’t get seasonal depression.
More than ten years into the tradition, lives have changed. Well, they have for Isaac and Chris. Isaac is about to have his first kid with his wife (a terrific, if brief Jillian Bell) and Chris is now one of the most popular football players in the country. Ethan though, his life stagnated, with days largely being spent doing menial jobs, playing his guitar for Youtube clips and pining for Diana (Lizzy Kaplan) aka the one that got away. With this Christmas bash planned as the last, years of unsaid things bubble to the surface amidst lots of drugs, booze and a string of superb cameos.
Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), The Night Before is not a great film. It is a really funny one though, that lands on its series of gags, both bizarre and callbacks, with far more frequency than it misses. Rogen’s descent into frothing-at-the-mouth druggery garners big laughs, from his confusion of what order to take things to his aside that his wife is clueless about how much of each narcotic is necessary. Equally enjoyable is a run-in with a possible super-fan (Ilana Glazer), whose motives have ties to history’s great grinches, including Mr. Hans Gruber. Add to that a drug-dealer from the trio’s past, whose reveal I won’t give away, that elicits the biggest comedic bombs of the whole picture.
Laced into this is a sprinkle of heart. Though not especially subtle, Levine and his gang of screenwriters do a fine job of building up Ethan, Isaac and Chris as natural friends. Old times and in-jokes play out smoothly. The initial drama that unfolds from it might be obvious, but it nonetheless lays out the heartstring tugs with precision ahead of time, aided by the chemistry the actors have of course.
The issue for the film lies in a certain bloated nature. This isn’t anything new for comedies, even the good ones. In fact, this goes doubly-so for Seth Rogen’s career; loaded with highly amusing works that feel about ten minutes too long. It isn’t that the writing fails to bring the funny, rather that too many beats have already been played earlier in the picture. Still, a release with this many yucks is well worth recommending.