Stoner Comedy And Holiday Spirit Make “The Night Before” Charming

By Scott Kurland
Film: The Night Before
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, Jillian Bell, and Michael Shannon
Rated R
Director: Jonathan Levine

We haven’t had a good adult themed Holiday comedy in almost thirty years. Ten years, if you are like me and count “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”. The good old days of Clark Griswold sledding down a hill on a greased up saucer are over. It seems by today’s standards adults aren’t allowed to have a laugh at Christmas time. However; after years of “Elf”, “Polar Express”, and the nightmare that was Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights” we have a light at the end of the tunnel. This week’s film is “The Night Before” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie. Let’s see if this R rated holiday raunch fest is a worthy companion to “Die Hard” and “Christmas Vacation”, shall we?

“The Night Before” opens up like a story book tale, being narrated by Santa Claus (Tracy Morgan). The story begins in 2000 with Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) losing his parents on Christmas Eve. Feeling alone, his two best friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) vow to spend Christmas Eve with him and in turn they become his family. Pan forward fifteen years, Ethan’s yearly tradition with Isaac and Chris is starting to come to an end. Ethan has one last Christmas Eve to spend with his surrogate family, and this leads to the greatest adventure he’s ever gone on. With the help of their mysterious angelic drug dealer Mr. Green (Michael Shannon); the boys see into their past, future, and present what Christmas means to each of them.

This movie is very clever, mainly because it combines all the classic Christmas films into one movie. “Home Alone”, “Die Hard”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, and “A Christmas Carol” are all homaged or referenced in this film. This is Director Jonathan Levine’s second collaboration with Gordon-Levitt and Rogen, their first outing was the cancer Dramedy “50/50”. “The Night Before” is incredibly different in comparison to  “50/50”, but Gordon-Levitt and Rogen once again prove how great they are together. You believe in their friendship with each other and with Mackie, and that’s all because of Levine’s direction. Levine allowed Rogen and company to improvise most of the comedy, but had them adhere to the script for the dramatic scenes. That direction allowed for an even balance of authenticity through comedy and drama. Levine is really proving what a multi-talented director he is and I’m loving everything he’s made so far, I eagerly await his next film.

Rogen, Gordon-Levitt, and Mackie are such unusual co-stars for this film. I mean Rogen has already proven he works great with Gordon-Levitt, but Mackie is the new kid on the block. Mackie really makes this team a tripod of gifted actors, and he’s equally as funny as Rogen and Gordon-Levitt. You believe these guys are all friends. They bounce one liners off each other. They fight like brothers do, but have a friendship based on love and respect. Mackie, Rogen, and Gordon-Levitt are a great team and even though it seems bizarre at first, the casting really did work well.

 The real shocker is the performance dramatic character actor Michael Shannon gives as Mr. Green. I had no idea how funny Shannon really was. That Michael Shannon dry, stern delivery helps sell the jokes. There’s one meta line in this film where Shannon claims his quiet intensity has been called intimidating at times. That clearly is a quote from one of his many reviews for his Oscar nominated role in “Revolutionary Road”. Shannon takes full range and advantage of his character’s deadpan delivery in order to give us one of the funniest side performances in years.

I really appreciated “The Night Before” for what it truly was, a look back at holiday cinema. The humor is at times incredibly raunchy; but there is a lot of heart at the center of this film. We get a lot of cameos from Rogen regulars like Mindy Kaling, Lizzy Caplan, and of course James Franco. However, Levine and his crew have a few surprises up their sleeves that they save for us. “The Night Before” isn’t going to win any awards, nor does it try; but it has a ton of laughs that filled my eyes with tears. This is a nice little Christmas raunch fest that I think is worth a viewing if you're in dire need to break free from Charlie Brown and Frosty the Snowman. Do yourself a favor and see “The Night Before”.

scott kurlandComment