The Night Before is not your typical feel good Christmas Eve fable. Rather this R-rated comedy is an anti-Christmas movie and with its anarchic streak of humour is more in the same tone as the black comedy Bad Santa. However, this is also this year’s Christmas turkey, and what an unappealing and tasteless serving it is.
The film centres around Isaac (Seth Rogen), Ethan (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), three friends who have this tradition of spending Christmas Eve together. Since Ethan’s parents were killed in a car crash eleven years ago, the tradition has taken on more significance for the three as they don’t want Ethan to spend that time alone. But there is a sense that this may well be the last year that the three of them will spend Christmas Eve together.
Isaac is about to become a father, while Chris’ career as a football star has peaked, largely thanks to regular injections of steroids. But while his two friends have moved on with their lives Ethan hasn’t changed much and is still clinging to the past. He has just ended a relationship with Diana (Lizzy Caplan) due to his failure to be able to commit, and he writes music that no-one will ever hear. For the three friends though their main aim of the evening is to try and get invited to the Nutcracka Ball, the Holy Grail of Christmas parties. It is by invitation only and held in a secret location. But this year Ethan has managed to snare three tickets to the Nutcracka Ball, and they are determined to make this a night to remember. But things do not go smoothly especially when Isaac falls under the spell of a concoction of chemicals and drugs. During the course of the long night the three learn some important lessons about friendship, family and the important things in life.
But unfortunately the film is something of a mess, which is surprising since director Jonathan Levine has previously given us the offbeat The Wackness, the sensitive cancer comedy 50/50 and the Romeo and Juliet like zombie romance Warm Bodies. Four writers, including Superbad’s Evan Goldberg have contributed to the script which follows the template established by other fast and wild bromance comedies like The Hangover and its ilk. Much of the dialogue has been improvised on the set, and the film is tonally uneven and the humour is all over the shop.
Levine maintains a fast and frantic pace throughout but much of the material misfires. And there is plenty of shameless and blatant product placement on view here, particularly with Red Bull and Sony. But Levine also tends to inject a strong emotional content into his films, and that mainly comes through the character of Ethan.
Levine is reunited with his 50/50 stars in Rogen and Gordon Levitt, but here he seems unable to get the best out of his stars. Rogen does his usual familiar shtick here, which became tiresome and stale several movies ago, especially when his character falls under the spell of a cocktail of drugs. Gordon Levitt is usually a very likeable performer, and he delivers a more sensitive performance as Ethan, whose character is the emotional core of the film. James Franco pops up in a strange role that allow him to carry on with his sexually ambiguous bromance with Rogen. The film wastes the talents of Michael Shannon (so good in recent films Freeheld and 99 Homes), and his “quiet intensity” in a role as Mr Green, the local drug dealer who may be much more. And there is a cameo from a game Miley Cyrus who sings her hit “Wrecking Ball”.
Disappointing, given the talent involved. One to avoid!
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling
Release date: 3 December 2015
Rated: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television