The Night Before leaves blurry impression

Superbad with seasonal wrapping

Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt rip a page from Charles Dickens and Timothy Leary in a well-intended holiday comedy that would have been Scrooged if not for Michael Shannon’s performance as angelic weed dealer

The Night Before


Directed by: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jillian Bell, Anthony Mackie, Ilana Glazer, Tracy Morgan

Running time: 101 minutes

MPAA Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

It’s Pineapple Express meets A Christmas Carol. Or maybe it’s more Cheech and Chong play Three Musketeers. Then again, maybe this latest outing from Seth Rogen and his Point Grey production partners is exactly what it set out to be: Superbad with seasonal wrapping.

Sharing some the same sweaty seat of man-bonding as Hot Tub Time Machine, The Night Before is about three buddies who have a tradition: They all spend Christmas eve together and party until their stockings are full.

It’s all sanctioned debauchery, which puts The Night Before in the same stall as The Hangover, only with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt instead of Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms.

The dynamic is basically the same: Isaac (Rogen), Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been hanging out together on Christmas eve since Ethan’s parents died years ago. It’s a brotherhood, but now that Isaac is married and about to become a father, the tradition is about to change.

Adulthood is pulling the boys apart, forcing them to take responsibility for their feelings as well as their actions – but not before one epic blowout.

Looking to reward her husband for being “a rock” throughout her pregnancy, Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives Isaac a box full of drugs and tells him to get his freak on with his friends.

For the next two hours, he complies, getting drunk and high in a Hummer Red Bull stretch limo looking for the party to end all parties: The invite-only Nutcracker Ball.

Ever since the boys first started their Christmas Bacchanal, the Nutcracker Ball has been the Holy Grail of destinations.

It’s a familiar theme, and one that fizzes up like beer bubbles coming to a pop culture head. For some reason, the intangible object of desire is often a VIP party invitation, as though life would be perfect with a couple of free beers and a paid model in a bikini.

Judging from the number of commercials featuring slow-motion images of beautiful people drinking and dancing without a care, the VIP invite is now an icon of social success – the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory, the piece of parchment inviting Cinderella to the ball.

Rogen and writer-director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) seem to be having fun with the whole marketing-fuelled fantasy, clearly drawing a line between the two with the addition of the Red Bull limo – a 10-cylinder symbol of asinine immaturity.

At first, you can’t really tell if the ride is designed to earnestly impress or if it’s just a product placement thing, but as the movie slowly slides into the gutter, you can see it’s a little bit of both – with a fizzy can of sweetness thrown in to keep you on your toes.

After all, it’s the sweet stuff that makes you sick to your stomach, and The Night Before has the same comic timing as Bridesmaids when it comes to bodily excretions.

It’s a familiar theme, and one that fizzes up like beer bubbles coming to a pop culture head. For some reason, the intangible object of desire is often a VIP party invitation, as though life would be perfect with a couple of free beers and a paid model in a bikini.

If you’ve seen the ad or the trailer, you’ve already seen Rogen’s character upchuck in the middle of midnight mass as his wife buries her head in her pregnant belly.

It’s a good scene, just like the other moments lifted for marketing purposes, which means a lot of the best material already feels stale, leaving us to endure long stretches of mediocre mise-en-scene in the service of man bonding.

This could have been the best part of the movie: Friends being honest and rediscovering each other as fully fledged adults. But the script feels a little thin on these counts, and as good as the performers are, they never get past the comic crust, into the warm human filling because it’s a store-bought pie – a piece of genre formula designed to please the mass palate.

And that’s fine, but The Night Before has a few moments of shining brilliance that give you the impression it could have been a lot more, and just like in Pineapple Express, the kaleidoscope of shiny fractals comes from one character: the drug dealer.

James Franco makes a memorable appearance as a sexually ambiguous sexter, but it’s Michael Shannon who takes on the ghost of Christmas past and present as the local weedman – an oracle in a toque and puffy orange jacket.

The amount of attention that went into scripting his character is palpable as he embodies bits and pieces of Dickens and Capra, and Shannon plays it to sweet perfection –conjuring fear and joy in equal measure.

If only the rest of the movie had been able to ride the same wave of weirdness instead of caving in to rom-com cliché, The Night Before could have been memorable the day after.


THE EX-PRESS, November 20, 2015



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CAPSULE REVIEW: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie play three best friends who decide to celebrate their last Christmas Eve together by getting drunk and stoned in a stretch hummer with a Red Bull logo. Director-writer Jonathan Levine does a nice job with the offbeat moments and the insecurities involved in male bonding, but the more traditional it tries to be, the weaker it becomes.

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