Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Movie Review: The Night Before (2015)

A Christmas bromance comedy, The Night Before has plenty of good laughs but just as many flat moments.

Ever since both his parents died in a 2001 car crash, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has depended on his good friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) to see him through the Christmas season. Isaac is now married to Betsy (Jillian Bell) and expecting his first child, while Chris is suddenly enjoying his finest season as a pro football player. But Ethan is still emotionally stuck in neutral, working menial jobs after having allowed the love of his life Diana (Lizzy Caplan) to get away.

The friends agree that this will be their last Christmas together and the night looks promising when Ethan steals coveted tickets to the secret Nutcracker Ball party. Betsy supplies Isaac with a treasure trove of drugs as a gift for his last Christmas before parenthood, and he is quickly mixing substances and zonking out. Meanwhile Chris goes on a quest to secure weed to impress his teammates, which means that legendary dope dealer Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) gets involved. With the three friends pulled in different directions, their fun is threatened before it really starts.

Directed by Jonathan Levine, The Night Before is a decent attempt to create a modern Christmas fable for the adult bro-therhood crowd. The usual suspects of sex, drugs and men behaving badly are invited to this bash, and while several moments are cringe-worthy, many others are really quite funny. There is enough plot about friendship, growing up, and moving on to hang the immature shenanigans on, and Levine keeps the action hopping and wraps things up in just over 100 minutes.

The rapid-fire improvisation is obvious, and Levine does his best to stay out of the way of his stars as they do their thing on a whim. The actors are often caught staring intently at each other to catch the next line and lob it back, and the sense of anything-can-happen-next is hit and miss, as can be expected.

Ironically, The Night Before is at its worse with the obsessive quest for weed, but at its best when Isaac mixes enough illicit substances to lose his surroundings. Rogen draws good laughs as he hallucinates his way through New York City, culminating in a church service encounter with Besty and her parents that should have been longer.

Michael Shannon injects suitable gruffness as Mr. Green wanders in and out of the movie at regular intervals, and the script makes half-hearted attempts to invoke the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future. James Franco and Miley Cyrus joint the party (literally) late on as themselves, as Ethan finally learns that he will have to earn his way to a meaningful relationship with Diana and Isaac gets his first brush with the tests of parenthood.

The Night Before is unlikely to ever be considered a first-rate Christmas classic, but it deserves a middling place under the tree.

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