The Night Before Review

Posted: December 8, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

The-Night-Before-poster-3Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Looking back, it’s pretty clear one of the best films of 2011 is 50/50, an intimate dramedy about a young man’s struggles with cancer. The film managed to walk the tight rope of being very funny and very serious, all while still feeling low key and humble. I remember thinking that film would really help launch director Jonathan Levine to more powerful material, but that hasn’t really happened. Levine’s follow-up would be the zombie-comedy Warm Bodies. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s very generic and definitely a disappointment. Now, he’s reteamed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen for another film titled The Night Before. However this film would not be a return to serious work either, but a more straightforward comedy more in line with the work Rogen and Evan Goldberg have directed themselves.

Best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have for years held a Christmas tradition of debauchery and drinking every Christmas Eve. This started in 2001, the year Ethan lost his parents. However as they’ve gotten older, their tradition has been harder to maintain. In the present, Isaac is married and expecting a child in a month, while Chris has become a very successful athlete in the NFL. Only Ethan has remained stagnant in life. He still works a dead-end job and his relationship with his long-time girlfriend has fallen apart fairly recently. On this Christmas Eve, the pair decide to have one final celebration of the tradition in a night that will turn absurd and taxing for all of them.

The Night Before follows the standard formula of a slacker rising to the occasion that has come to define most of Rogen’s films, from Pineapple Express, to Knocked Up, to The Interview, and it doesn’t do much to deviate. It’s pretty clear from the start which arc each character will take and where they’ll end up. Additionally, the film contains a lot of the standard tropes, namely celebrity cameos, jokes about people on drugs, a hip hop heavy soundtrack, pop-culture references, and even some musical numbers. The movie is elevated though, by Jonathan Levine, whose visual sensibilities are much sharper than that seen in the films Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed. The film also benefits from Levine’s talents as a screenwriter. A lot of the dramatic moments which might have come off as insincere actually do have a decent degree of poignancy.

In spite of the film’s lack of innovation, I did still find it very funny. We may have seen these types of jokes many times before, but the execution here is such that I laughed a lot. This is in large part thanks to the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves very capable as a slacker type character and he’s also very funny. Anthony Mackie is also pretty charming here and while Rogen is still doing his usual shtick, it’s shaken up somewhat by the fact that his character is a bit more capable than in some other films. The three work really well together, but it’s actually the supporting cast that probably gets the biggest laughs. Michael Shannon shows up as a sort of wise pot dealer, and cult comedian Nathan Fielder is great in a bit role as a limo driver. The women in the film also have some great stuff. Jillian Bell especially shines as Isaac’s wife. Usually these characters are stuck into just being a one-dimensional straight man (or woman in this case), but Bell brings a lot of personality and you can tell why these two are together. Plus, Bell gets some really funny scenes of her own, and Lizzy Caplan and Mindy Kaling also shine. There are other cameos in here too, but for the main cast that about covers it.

Whether or not I recommend The Night Before depends entirely on you feel about the majority of comedies made by Rogen and Co. If you feel they’re stupid and unfunny, this won’t change your mind. If you feel that they’ve become to repetitive, this will just reinforce that opinion. But if you generally enjoy these types of films, you should enjoy The Night Before too. It’s not totally consistent, but in its best moments it’s really damn funny and is pretty well-made to boot.


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