Screw the eggnog! Roll up a fatty!
Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been best friends since high school. For the past ten years, in a way to keep in touch or what have you, they’ve decided to spend Christmas Eve performing all sorts of tasks and activities that, at one time, they thought were “fun” and “exciting”. Now though, they just seem tireless. Most of this has to do with the fact that both Isaac and Chris have, in ways, grown-up and moved on with their lives – for some reason, Ethan has not. Isaac is a soon-to-be-father and Chris is a famous athlete, whereas Ethan is still trying to make ends meet as a musician. This year, however, the tradition seems as if it’s getting a bit tired, Isaac, Chris and Ethan all plan to go harder than ever before. For one, they’ve got a crazy, Red Bull Hummer, not to mention that they’ve also received three tickets to a special party they’ve been wanting to get invitations to since forever. Now that they finally have them in their hand, they hang around and wait to see where this party is actually at, which then can also lead to them having at it with one another and revealing some truths about one another that, between besties, can always hurt.
One of the main issues surrounding the Night Before stems solely from the fact that it features not one, not two, not three and sure as hell, not four, but five writers working on it. In addition to writer/director Jonathan Levine and star Seth Rogen, there’s Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, are also here to work out the kinks in the screenplay and see what they can have work as “funny” or as “heartfelt”. Now, if this seems like maybe too many writers on such a small-scale flick, that’s because it is.
The Night Before is the classic case of a movie that, had it played it smaller and not really tried to incorporate so much else, could have really succeeded. Normally, it’s made up to the reviewer/critic to judge based solely on what’s presented on the screen, not what we wanted or expected, but with the Night Before, I can’t help but feel like there’s a missed-opportunity to be found here. While I was all on-board for a comedy-drama about these three pals getting together to enjoy Christmas Eve one last time, for some reason, the rest of the movie didn’t want to agree with me.
In fact, the strongest parts of this movie actually do come around once these childhood friends, start to get in each other’s faces, and let them know just exactly how they feel for the other person. Here is where the Night Before‘s writing is the strongest; rather than making us have to choose a side that we must agree with at all times, the movie just lets it all play out and not get in the way of the characters or their own, respective stories.
Granted, this doesn’t always happen, but when it does, there’s something engaging and smart about the Night Before that makes it seem like so much more than its publicity.
But the movie isn’t always like this, and it’s where the film bites off a bit more than it can chew, is where it began to lose me. For one, there’s literally a subplot concerning Anthony Mackie’s character searching for and chasing around a simple lay he had in a bar bathroom one night and now believes that she stole his weed. The movie plays this all out as some sort of joke and as much as I’d like to say that there were a few belly-laughs to be found here, none of which ever seemed to have much of an impact on me. Instead, I just wanted to hear and watch as these guys talked more and more about where they see their lives next and then start bickering just for the hell of it.
There’s another subplot of sorts concerns Rogen’s Isaac who finally gets a time to break free from his pregnant wife and therefore, is allowed to do what he wants. This means that he gets high-as-hell on shrooms and always seems to imagine the people around him as some sort of mystical figure. It’s a silly subplot, but then there’s some more. Michael Shannon shows up as the guys’ go-to drug dealer and, though he’s actually quite hilarious, still feels like he’s in there just to take up more time or what have you.
Regardless, the cast all seems to be willing and able to try.
JGL has a perfect balance between sadness and charm that works on just about every gal and it’s great to see him give it his all, despite not liking her very much to begin with. As for Rogen, he’s funny and seems like he has to get home all of the time. And Anthony Mackie, being the stand-up guy that he is, gives his relatively conventional character a small bit of heart and personality that makes it easy for us to sympathize when it seems like all else is going South.
There’s plenty more, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Night Before wants to do so many things that, on paper, seem like they’re so exciting, and that they might possibly rip the rest of the world apart. The ending itself may be sweet and hint at the idea of sticking close to your friends until the end of time, there wasn’t nearly as many scenes dedicated to that. Instead, it’s worried about where Seth Rogen is accidentally going to puke next.
Consensus: Despite fine performances and a few bits of insight, the Night Before doesn’t feel fully-realized enough to make it all to work.
6.5 / 10