Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before is yet another example of Seth Rogen playing the manchild dealing with pending adulthood and learning that friendship can survive the journey to maturity. Throughout the rowdy, raucous, drug-fueled comedy, Rogen’s character talks to his friends about this being the absolute last time they are going to go through their Christmas ritual. It made me wonder if Rogen and his team of writers were in a room with director Levine taking bong rips and thinking out loud, “dude …. You know what we did in Neighbors … we should totally do that again.” The Night Before is a well-intentioned comedy, but ultimately it’s a bad film.
It opens with a literal Christmas storybook animation, narrated by Tracy Morgan in a way that only he would. We learn of three good Friends – Ethan (Joseph Gordon Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) who have been spending Christmas together for over a decade – since Ethan lost his parents – doing their best to have the time of their lives. Essentially, they like to act like idiots. From blowing up snowmen to getting high and looking at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, they are willing to do whatever needs to be done to keep Ethan positive around the holidays. However, the annual event is starting to strain as each of them inches closer towards adulthood. Isaac is about to become a dad for the first time, Chris is dealing with the realization that he now needs to use steroids to help him perform on the football field, and Ethan is dealing with a breakup from his longtime girlfriend, Diana (Lizzy Caplan). As the boys get ready for the big night, Issac’s wife gives him an early Christmas gift, a box of drugs to help him party that night. Isaac gets extremely messed up, allowing Rogen to display some truly horrific behavior after he mixes molly, coke, and weed from his box of goodies.
The one highlight of this film would have to be Micheal Shannon, who plays Mr. Green (The drug dealer/life coach). Every time Mr. Green pops up he gnashes the scenery and generates the film’s biggest laughs. Micheal Shannon never really struck me as much of a comedic actor, but this certainly has altered my perception of him going forward. Other than Shannon, The Night Before was one failed bit after another.
Mindy Kaling (who I’m guessing is in this film as favor to either Rogen or his writing partner Evan Goldberg) plays Diana’s best friend, and is in a scene where Isaac’s nose drips “cocaine blood” into her drink that isn’t quite as funny as it should be. Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) also picks a fight with a couple of drunk guys dressed as Santa Claus that simply falls flat. Johnathan Levine has shown his talent before, directing films like 50/50, but one can’t help but wonder if he was the right for this type of “wacky buddy comedy.” Comedy is about balance and timing, and you can’t go from stealing a horse-drawn carriage (really) to yet another short-lived introspective moment in a manner of moments. The Night Before suffers from an identity crisis. It attempts to be both poignant and funny and fails miserably at both. Maybe if Johnathan Levine and Evan Goldberg had taken the time to smooth out the imbalances in the script, The Night Before would have been a far more enjoyable film.