‘The Night Before’ Is A Different Kind of Christmas Movie (FILM REVIEW)


Last week, in my review for Love the Coopers, I made no bones about displaying my general disdain for Christmas movies. They are, for the most part, the dregs of the cinematic tradition that do little except play on your nostalgic fondness for the holiday season. All of them try too hard to be classics, and the results are usually far from their expectations. I admit, this might have something to do with the general malaise and ennui that so affects me and my generation. Our bullshit detectors are finely tuned, and they tend to go off when we get anywhere near a movie that might even kind of be one about Christmas. So I was on high alert this week as I walked into the theater for yet another screening of yet another Christmas movie, The Night Before. And yet, despite my cold façade and wariness, this Christmas movie, unlike so many of its counterparts, completely won me over, making it the first Christmas movie in years that I actually tolerated—nay, actually enjoyed.

This might have something to do with the fact that it’s not your traditional Christmas movie. The Night Before follows lifelong friends who’ve spent every Christmas Eve for the last 13 years hanging out and doing Christmas things as a family. There’s the successful psychologist Isaac (Seth Rogen), the football superstar Chris (Anthony Mackie, who’s apparently in every Christmas movie this year), and the shiftless loser who can’t quite get his shit together Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). With the demands of family, career, and adulthood now pressing down upon them, the trio have decided that this is going to be the last Christmas Eve they spend partying, much to the dismay of Ethan, whose parents’ death years ago kick-started their raucous traditions. Being that this is their last year of irresponsible merriment before accepting their roles as adults, the trio decide to make this year memorable by gaining access to the fabled Christmas party to end all Christmas parties, The Nutcracker Ball.

Directed by Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies, The Wackness), who co-writes along with comedians Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and frequent Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg, The Night Before is the kind of madcap stoner adventure you’ve come to expect from this group. It’s an hour and a half of drug-induced mania that finds comedy in both the everyday and the absurd. It ain’t high-brow or nothing, but I laughed my ass off.

In a way, the film almost kind of plays out like an old school Christmas special from an old school comedy troupe. There’s a loosely defined plot around which sketches and bits are developed, there’s plenty of hilarious guest stars and cameos, and there’s even a crazy out of place musical segment from a mega-pop star that most readers of this site would normally probably roll their eyes at which somehow works and adds to the overall magic of the piece. There’s love, there’s friendship, there’s family, and they do it all without overtly catering to expectations. It’s genuine in every way, which does a lot for making the movie tolerable.

Rogen steals the entire show after his character receives the gift of literally every drug from his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) so that his last Christmas Eve with his friends will be a fun one. He spends much of the movie doing whatever he can to simply maintain as the intoxicants course through his body unrelentingly. This is all familiar territory for the actor, who’s more or less built a career on playing stoner characters doing stoner things. While he doesn’t exactly stretch his wings here, his presence goes a long way towards legitimizing the entire enterprise, and his repartee with Mackie is particularly enjoyable.

While there’s not much that’s unexpected about The Night Before, it does manage to capture the spirit of Christmas from the perspective of young thirty-somethings as they start to form new traditions with new people. It’s kind of a heavy realization when it happens to you, and it’s not something that’s typically explored in Christmas movies. It probably won’t be considered a new Christmas classic, but it’s enjoyable enough and good for more than a few solid laughs.

The Night Before is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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