Friday, November 20, 2015
“The Night Before” – It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
Before I get to the rest of the review, I want to point out that The Night Before is the second Christmas movie I’ve seen in as many weeks (Love the Coopers). For everyone out there who believes in the mythical war on Christmas; that Starbucks hates Christmas because they decided to serve coffee in cups not featuring a Christmas tree (yet the cup is red with a green Starbucks logo; you know – Christmas colors), you can shut up now. Not only does every store have all of their Christmas merchandise out; not only is the shopping mall near my house already decorated to the hilt in Christmas gear, but we’ve now had two Christmas movies released well before Thanksgiving. If there’s a war on Christmas, the anti-Christmas team is getting crushed.
(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)
Anyway, The Night Before is about three friends, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie), trying to find the ultimate, but well-hidden, Christmas party known as the Nutcracker Ball. They’ve been at it for ten years and the only thing they know is what the invitation looks like. At this point in their lives, Chris is now a famous football player, Isaac is about to be a father, and both of them are ready to end the hunt because they are grown-ups now. Conversely, Ethan is single and works as a waiter for a catering service, and doesn’t want to let go of their annual tradition (and all of the things they repeat during the tradition) because it’s all he has (his parents died just before the Christmas Eve that led to said tradition). Predictably, all of these issues will be addressed (Chris is on steroids and Isaac is terrified of fatherhood) and all three guys will have to deal with these issues by the end of the film. I know this doesn’t sound funny yet, but all of that stuff is really just the dressing. The turkey is the series of events that occur during their final attempt to find the mythical party.
Actually, finding the party turns out to be the easy part of the night. While Ethan is at work, he stumbles upon three invitations to the party while checking coats. He steals the invitations and bolts to find Chris and Isaac so he can share the good news. After calling the number on the invitation, they learn that they have several hours to kill before the location will be revealed, so the party turns out to be the big gift-wrapped MacGuffin of the film. The hard part of the night is actually making it long enough to even go to the party, as a combination of drinking, drugs, and squabbles threaten to derail the quest. Yes, this is a quest movie and Ethan must complete the quest. But, what quest isn’t complete without trials and tribulations?
Knowing that this is their last time doing this tradition, Isaac’s wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives Isaac a box filled with “every kind of drug in the world.” As you probably already know (based on the previews), this leads to Isaac being high off his ass (to put it mildly) for the entire film, which is the biggest hurdle for Ethan. It also leads to nearly all of the best jokes in the film because no one does high off his ass better than Rogen. Then, there’s Chris’s side quest to obtain some weed for his quarterback (Chris is desperate for his teammates to like him). This quest includes an old teacher (and marijuana dealer) of theirs – Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) – and a slutty, anti-Christmas thief named Rebecca Grinch (Ilana Glazer). Yes, her name is Grinch and no, it was not funny (or clever). Finally, there’s Ethan’s ex-girlfriend, Diana (Lizzy Caplan). For reasons not even remotely explained, she and her friend (Mindy Kaling) were legitimately invited to the party, so you can bet your ass that the party is going to be trumped by whatever happens between the two of them.
At this point, I need to give credit to the writers (Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine, Ariel Shaffir) because I went into this film with zero expectations of any kind of plot more than “hijinks galore.” Getting a film with a decently organized plot on top of a cornucopia of comedy was definitely worth the earlier start to Christmas (and that’s why I spent so many words talking about it). Goldberg in particular has been responsible for some awful movies, so getting something that didn’t feel like it was written with paste and glitter deserves attention.
Most importantly though, the comedy was well worth the decision to see this film. Every now and then, you hear or see something that makes you laugh so hard that you cry and can’t breathe. This happened to me during the church scene in this movie, which is also shown in the previews (so I can say it here without feeling bad). Watching Rogen hiss at a baby, then ask his wife who the guy on the cross is by emulating Christ’s position, then try not to puke at the thought of crucifixion, then hear his wife say “don’t you dare throw up. You swallow it like a girl would,” nearly broke me and most of the audience as well. If this is what Christmas coming extra early brings, I’m all for it.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and get over the Starbucks thing. It’s a cup.