The Night Before: Film Review
Cast: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Michael Shannon, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, Jillian Bell
Director: Jonathan Levine
Putting the crass into the Christmas holidays, Seth Rogen returns for an annual assault on the season after last year's near apocalyptic The Interview.
This time ploughing rather more frat frantics than low brow political satire, Rogen is Jewish Isaac, who along with Anthony Mackie's Chris, has every year for the past 13 years spent Christmas with their mutual friend Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) after he was orphaned at this time of the year.
However, this Christmas is going to be different as Isaac's on the cusp of fatherhood and Chris is a growing athlete juggling success and sponsorship. In search of the Holy Grail of Christmas parties, the trio decides this year will be their last of bad behaviour and ho-ho-hos under the tree.
The Night Before is a patchy film that goes for low-hanging fruit and picks every one of them off the tree without fail but without any kind of flair.
These three less-than-wise men booze, sniff and inhale their way through New York as each of them takes on their own personal quest and demons. Mixing in this with the obligatory holiday spirit and eventual mush of the season with a large portion of other white stuff, this film's about as irreverent as it can get - as you'd no doubt expect from a Rogen / Goldberg screenplay.
There's a degree of heart from Gordon-Levitt's character as he battles a bit of holiday blues and post-break up depression from Lizzy Caplan's Diana, but to be frank, this film aims for hedonism mixed in with It's a Wonderful Life / Christmas Carol and barely strays too far from where it's aiming.
Despite Michael Shannon's brilliantly comic turn as a high school teacher turned drug dealer / pothead, and the obligatory showbiz cameos - and a great return from Tracy Morgan, The Night Before runs out of gags and steam by barely half-way through. Rogen's increasingly deranged Isaac's on the run from himself, fuelled by drugs given him by his wife - moments of humour are wrung from this set up but they all ultimately feel aimless and scabrously scatter-shot (even if one pay-off involving the crucifixion shows some residual smarts) when placed in the overall context of a 1hr 40 min movie.
As the film descends into an inevitable cornucopia of cameos and the inevitable happy ending mush is piled on, this Christmas Carol riff on friendship through the years lays out its message to the kids - it's hard to stay in touch as time goes on, but make the effort one character intones. Something that no doubt its mainly frat boy puerile audience will nod vehemently at before life takes hold.
It may sound like a Christmas Grinch to dismiss The Night Before and there's no denying there are some laughs to be had, but the stop-start ramshackle nature of this drug-fuelled nightmare before Christmas is more no-no-no than ho-ho-ho; it's nothing short of seasonal excess with a terrible cinematic hangover once the lights go up.