The Night Before
It’s pretty much a given that any film featuring boorish oaf Seth Rogen will feature the consumption of copious quantities of weed – off screen and on – but he goes all in here, with a spouse-gifted pharmaceuticals bag (“It’s every single drug in the whole world”) and the chance to act off his moobs for most of the movie. And much as I have an allergic response to Rogen in all his hirsute glory, he does at times extract a mirthful response. The problem with The Night Before isn’t its potential – After Hours with a dose of Yule log – so much as the tendency to excess and never knowing when less is more. But then, Rogen buddy and screenwriter Even Goldberg also co-scripted This Is the End, which fell prey to exactly the same issues.
Goldberg is co-credited with Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir and director Jonathan Levine. The latter has proved himself a consistently creative visual stylist, despite his propensity for slumming it with his buds, to best effect in the buds-free, surprisingly affecting zombie romance Warm Bodies. Perhaps at some point he will have matured enough to see the folly of teaming Rogen as Charlize Theron’s love interest. Until then, best of luck to his career.
Here, he duly collaborates on a Screenwriting 101 set up of childhood chums Rogen and Anthony Mackie continuing to meet up on Christmas Eve for the last fifteen years, owing to the need to keep third chum Joseph Gordon-Levitt company, owing to his having lost his parents in a car accident. But this is to be the last such event. Rogen is an expectant father, given a long leash that night – hence the drugs bag – by wife Jillian Bell in recognition that maturity beckons (like, what?) Mackie is a successful American Football player (with an unannounced until later steroid habit). And Levitt is a deadbeat musician guesting as an elf at a hotel and moping over his split with Lizzy Caplan. Oh, and all this time, they’ve held out the hope of the seasonal pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Nutcracker Ball, but have never been able to procure tickets.
Until now. But first, on their way there, hijinks duly ensue. There’s very little that’s sparklingly original in The Night Before, but the trio have good chemistry, and as importantly, Levine lends the comedic episodes an appropriate touch of the tinsel. True, I never need to see Rogen rapping again. I don’t need to see him vomiting either – it’s Seth, so anything he’s involved in requires maximum grossness – but his retreat from Midnight Mass pleading “We did not kill Jesus. We did not do that” can’t help but raise a smile (his Christmas sweater boasts the Star of Israel). By the time the same gag is being played out at the Nutcracker Ball – their tickets were stolen by Levitt, an act that weirdly never has any comeuppance – it’s growing thin, however (“The Jewish guy crucified the Messiah!”)
Mackie repeatedly encounters the Grinch (Ilana Glazer), who steals his weed, and must face a realisation with regard to the cooler jocks he hangs out with (one that isn’t as enlightened as you’d perhaps expect). Levitt meanwhile, as the romantic lead, picks a fight with some pissy Santas and attempts to get back together with Caplan.
The “showdown” at the Ball exhibits the worst of this Hollywood stoner bros’ club’s capacity for self-indulgence, unfortunately. James Franco appears as “himself”, but with a bi-curious side that lets you know he’s definitely actually the most heterosexual dude ever and that his bad-boy reputation must all be a lot of hot air or he wouldn’t be sending himself up (just ask his accusers). As intolerable as he is, he’s bested/worsted by a self-aggrandising attempt by Miley Cyrus (who I’d been given to understand was an actress before she became a singer) to appear cool and with it and not just an Illuminati stooge and/or clone. These kinds of music star cameos very rarely work. Not everyone can be Bowie in Zoolander.
Even the unqualified bright spot, Michael Shannon as drug dealer Mr Green, intervening periodically like some kind of Ghost of Christmas Whatever Dude and providing the trio with a particular toke specific to their needs, is ultimately over-serviced. Shannon in a non-psycho role is a rare treat, but the no-need-to-show of making him an angel in service to Tracy Morgan’s Santa Claus is the kind of unasked for excess usually reserved by Kevin Smith.
The common factor most likely being far too much extra-curricular substance use as a fuel to, and replacement for, inspiration and not enough restraint tapping inspiration sagely on the shoulder. As excessive Christmas fare goes, then, The Night Before is breezily passable, but it can’t hold a candle to A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.