My week revisiting Christmas films continues this week, as I saw Die Hard for the umpteenth time last night (more on that film coming this week), and then Jonathan Levine’s R-rated Christmas comedy The Night Before, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie and Seth Rogen earlier tonight. Like Krampus, I failed to catch The Night Before when it came out last year and I wish I did see it in theaters, because man, this film is hilarious.
I watched this film by myself on my laptop with headphones, and I find that often comedies are funny but not always laugh-out-loud funny when viewed in this way. For this recent Christmas comedy, I found it uproarious, I was constantly cracking up at Rogen’s drug infused antics, Mackie chasing a modern day Grinch, played by Ilana Glazer, or at Michael Shannon’s magical drug dealer, Mr. Green. This film has everything I expect from the director of 50/50 and Warm Bodies, a film that is equally funny and warm, one with real emotions but never forgetting to see the joy and laughter in life. The Night Before is a very solid comedy that has more to say than its drug and dick jokes may lead you to believe.
The three leads of the film are each struggling with their identity and their places at the current stage in their lives. Rogen plays Isaac, who will soon find himself to be a new father, Mackie plays Chris, an athlete who has found new success and fame, and Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, who lost his parents tragically fifteen years prior and is struggling to grow up and is still coping with that loss. Isaac and Chris take Ethan out each year for Christmas and have a wild fun night together. But this year is supposed to be their “last Christmas”, since Isaac will soon have a baby to care for. And so, the film begins the many hysterical antics as the three best friends aid each other and comfort each other through the night as revelations are made and sad memories arise.
Unlike other crazy party movies like The Hangover or Project X, this film has some serious dramatic elements that are portrayed elegantly by its strong cast. The film isn’t just one crazy adventure or scene after the other. It’s simply three friends having a fun night, with some mild antics thrown in, such as the aforementioned chase between Mackie and Glazer. The main drive of the film isn’t to show crazy shit, although Rogen’s Isaac is tripping through most of the film, the drive comes from the sweet and honest relationship between these three men. These characters are brothers to one another, and the film celebrates that familial bond between them. Their support and love for one another rings true through the leads’ great chemistry and comedic and dramatic performances throughout the film.
Even with the performances and three main characters being as great as they are, there are some plotting issues and some character knowledge that isn’t fully explained. There is a romance that is underdeveloped, one very funny side character is completely dropped half way through the picture, as I expected her to come back in a big way near the end, and the very final scene of the film didn’t quite land for me as was probably intended, but never-the-less, The Night Before is still a great comedy. So many of the jokes land (if you are a fan of the Rogen-style of comedy), and each character and performer have a moment to shine. I particularly love every scene between Isaac and his wife, Betsy, played by Jilian Bell who has impeccable timing, particularly their scene at the midnight mass. They are a great on-screen couple and are very funny and believable together, even as things get weird.
Humor and believable characters and stories have become the staple of Jonathan Levine. Even when he makes a zombie rom-com inspired by Romeo and Juliet, he still makes a film with worthy characters, solid humor, and heart. His best film remains his previous team up with Rogen and Gordon-Levitt: 50/50. That film is more dramatic than The Night Before and handles its themes with a subtler touch, but this film shows that Levine is good at handling different types of comedy and that he hasn’t lost his touch as he creates real dramatic tension. The Night Before is a worthy follow-up to 50/50, which is a film that I adore and brought me to tears the first time I viewed it.
This is a great Christmas movie that has wonderful references to other Christmas classics, and there is magic weed that acts as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. It’s funny stuff. So if you want to spend this Christmas watching a more adult oriented Christmas comedy, check out The Night Before, which I find to be one of the funniest Christmas movies.