One of my favorite comedies of the past couple years is 50/50 (review here) and The Night Before reunites Joseph Gordon-Levitt with the same director, Jonathan Levine. So I had high hopes for something similar. Did it manage to impress?
Three friends spend every Christmas together, after one of them (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loses his parents in a car accident. He’s been struggling a bit lately, losing the girl he loves (Lizzy Caplan). His other friends are doing much better, including becoming an NFL superstar (Anthony Mackie) and a becoming a father (Seth Rogen). They’ve all agreed that this is their last Christmas together and they decide to try to get into the most prestigious New York party, the Nutcracker Ball. We’ve also got Jillian Bell (Workaholics) as Rogen’s wife, Michael Shannon as their weed dealer Mr. Green, and Mindy Kaling as Caplan’s best friend.
This movie was marketed as a raunchy comedy and it totally delivers on that. I laughed a lot but it’s definitely pushing some boundaries. Sometimes it does resort to the lowest common denominator but it did so in a way that felt refreshing. The only joke that got a little tired was Seth Rogen’s drug-induced hallucinations, as he’s taking all sorts of drugs throughout the course of the movie.
So if you want to laugh, this movie will definitely make that happen.
But like 50/50, this movie also managed to sneak up on you with some seriousness too. It’s a story about friendship and family and growing up. There are quite a few poignant moments that I really appreciated, especially in the film’s climax. Having lost a parent and spending many holidays alone, maybe this just resonated more with me than it might for you.
In terms of the cast, all three male leads do a great job but it’s all familiar territory for them. The surprise standout was Michael Shannon as their weed dealer, Mr. Green. He shows up in just a few scenes throughout the movie but his scenes were hands down the funniest and most quotable. I’ve only seen him in serious work so this was an amazing change of pace for him.
What doesn’t work?
If you don’t usually enjoy R-rated raunchy humor, this may not be your cup of tea.
And aside from Shannon, everyone else feels like the same role they’ve always played. No one is really outside their comfort zone and it all feels very familiar. Not necessarily a bad thing but it might just mean a generally forgettable performance after a few months.
If you’ve enjoyed other R-rated films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Wedding Crashers (or even the more recent Neighbors), you’ll likely enjoy The Night Before. It’s really funny and surprises you a few times with something much deeper. However it all feels very familiar, with performances that are fairly standard and nothing spectacular about the story. This movie may not last the test of time, but for now… it’s likely the best comedy in theaters.