The Night Before (November 20th, 2015)
Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, and Lizzy Caplan
Seth Rogen was in a weird spot in the movie career in this last year. Not that he had to prove anything, he’s kinda become unbeatable at this point. It’s just been weird since his last movie was released, or not really released. That movie was the national crisis starting The Interview, a movie that wasn’t actually released in the way it was supposed to. Kinda shoved to the wayside to appease the North Korean terrorists that threatened America thanks to its creation. So it’s been a while since he’s made a movie. What could he possible follow up that massively controversial movie with, and would it work? Well, that movie would be a Christmas movie. And I can say it does work pretty well. At the very least, it’s better than The Interview.
14 years ago, Ethan’s (Levitt) parents died in a car accident before Christmas. Distraught at having to spend Christmas without his family, his two friends Issac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) decide to spend Christmas Eve with him to blunt the pain. It had become a tradition, but it’s time for the tradition to end. Issac is having a baby, Chris is too busy with fame as a football player, and Ethan is stuck in place. So this year is the time to end the tradition.
One more final trek throughout NYC on Christmas Eve is the plot setup, but the story is really about all these guys growing up. Obviously Ethan is the main one here, being the immature main child who is frozen in time and refuses to grow up thanks to the trauma he faced. But Issac too has to deal with the impending change to his life with the incoming baby. Ethans story is told with a little more seriousness to it, an earnest tone with some humor. Issac’s is one drenched in humor, as his emotional journey comes to him as he is high and continues to get a different kind of high throughout the night. Chris has a bit of a journey, but it’s very minor and sidelined in the flick. Dealing with using performance enhancing drugs to further his career in football isn’t very interesting with the short shrifted focus on it not helping matters.
This is a step up from The Interview mainly because it’s funnier. A good deal funnier. This isn’t a classic or anything. The laughs in it aren’t gutbusters or jokes that bring the roof down, but is consistently funny. A solid throughline of chuckles, with Rogens trek particularly getting close to tears worthy.
Like many of Rogens movie, this is about man children learning to grow up without having to be dullards in their maturity. It’s also about, like many of his movies, bromance. This time out it’s a trio and the relationships work because of the chemistry of the leads. Mackie and Levitt are kinda the straight men, leaving Rogens drug fueled antics to be the wild card. But the main thing here is the need to move past tragedy, to not allow yourself to get stuck in the past and let your future fall to the wayside. Levitt gets the emotional crux of the movie. And it’s fine, but doesn’t really hit as hard as it should. It’s not really given enough time to grow, with the characters telling us about his life as a goof than really seeing it as much as we should. Really the only one’s journey who gets the right amount of work is Rogen.
The main trio is great, but the rest of the cast is great as well. Jillian Bell as Rogens wife does good work, making her an equal partner to Rogen without being a shrew. Lizzy Caplan is good as the romantic interest for Levitt. Ilana Glazer is solid as an antagonist to Mackie. There’s some great cameos throughout too, but the MVP of the movie is Michael Shannon. As a weirdo drug dealer, he steals the movie with his intense presence and off kilter delivery.
Is this the best movie in the world? Not at all. It’s the best comedy I’ve seen this year, which is almost a backhanded compliment since not much greatness has come out of the comedic world. But it’s a funny little flick, one that has fun with the Christmas movie subgenre. It feels a little rickety with some subplots feeling thin. The humor works though, never hitting the high of some of Rogens best work in This is The End or Superbad, but keeps you entertained throughout.