Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Drug Use and Language throughout, some Strong Sexual Content and Graphic Nudity
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine & Ariel Shaffir
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling & Lorraine Toussaint
I’m a fan of Seth Rogen. Though his comedies completely hinge on juvenile humor and an overuse of profanity, I really enjoy most of his films. Just last year, I gave good reviews to both NEIGHBORS and THE INTERVIEW. THE NIGHT BEFORE looked like Rogen and crew were taking on the holiday season with hard R-rated style. While the film definitely relies on juvenile humor and contains a ton of profanity (two elements that I’ve enjoyed in the past), it really struggles with its story and characters. The screenplay (constructed by four writers) can’t decide on whether this wants to be your typical Rogen vehicle or a Christmas Eve dramedy. Whatever the film wanted to be, it simply doesn’t function very well as it tries to be both of these things at the same time.
Ethan, Isaac and Chris are three best friends who have made a tradition of hanging out on Christmas Eve for the past fourteen years. This originally sprung from Ethan’s parents dying in a car accident and leaving him with no family to celebrate the holidays with. Over a decade later, the annual routine of drunk traditions has gotten dull and repetitive as Isaac and Chris both have obligations in their adult lives, while Ethan remains a stunted man-child. Seeing as this is their last Christmas Eve out on the town together, Ethan obtains three tickets to the most exclusive Christmas party in the city. As the hours tick closer to the party, Chris attempts to track down a thief on the streets and Isaac experiences a hallucinatory journey of self-discovery thanks to a box of drugs.
THE NIGHT BEFORE is an R-rated holiday comedy that falls victim to a wildly uneven tone. On one hand, it plays out like a typical Rogen vehicle, albeit a slightly lazy one. On the other, the film tries so hard to include an emotional core that only shows up for a couple of scenes. This sappy underbelly feels especially unearned during the last 20 minutes of the film. It’s not as if a crude comedy can’t be emotional (e.g. KNOCKED UP), but the story here is basic and relies on overly familiar set pieces. The tone of the film doesn’t match up when in one scene we have a supposedly heartfelt conversation about parenthood and then in the very next shot Rogen is hallucinating that his wife is a dragon beast. This is all complete with cartoony CGI hallucinations that we see. These moments aren’t plentiful, but they do stick out like a sore thumb.
This all being said, Rogen definitely earns the biggest laughs in this otherwise lackluster film. It’s too bad that those laughs mainly come from two scenes in particular, one of which is mostly revealed in the trailer. There’s a NSFW phone conversation that had me cracking up and a church scene that had me rolling. The rest of the film only contains a handful of chuckles. The plot doesn’t do much to service the talents of its three main stars. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie are wasted here. Michael Shannon has more of a personality as a weird pot dealer than these two performers have as the main characters alongside Rogen. It’s worth noting that Shannon’s mere presence is far funnier than any of the actual scenes he’s been given. The rest of the cast contains a few familiar faces with Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell and Mindy Kaling who are decent enough in their roles, but serve more as set-ups to jokes rather than actual characters (which is what this script tries to make them by the conclusion).
Suffering from unconvincing tonal shifts, stale jokes, and forced sentimentality, THE NIGHT BEFORE is one of the bigger disappointments that I’ve had this year. Rogen is definitely the best part of the film, but everything else is wildly uneven with a handful of chuckles and a plot that strains its running time. Aside from two solid sequences (one of which is given away in the trailer), THE NIGHT BEFORE is a mostly forgettable slog. Just stick to other R-rated Christmas comedies (e.g. THE REF, BAD SANTA) or pretty much any other Seth Rogen comedy out there. THE NIGHT BEFORE is a disappointing lump of coal.