The Night Before (2015) – A Christmas comedy that works surprisingly well

Three dudes, one of which is played by Seth Rogen, go out to party on Christmas Eve and who would have thought that such a movie could work that well as a Christmas movie?

It seems to be Jonathan Levine’s strength to unite humor with sincere emotions as he proved in his previous collaboration, 50/50, with two of this movie’s stars, Rogen and Gordon-Levitt. There are a lot of crass jokes and situational comedy but also some very christmas-y moments of contemplation about friendship and what’s important in life. JGL aptly stated in the bonus material on the DVD that every Christmas movie is also kind of a coming-of-age movie. This dynamic of JGL’s character Ethan traditionally spending Christmas eve partying with his lifelong friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) since his parents’ demise is a lot of fun thanks to many absurd situations but also heartwarming because of the emotional journey throughout this evening.

After his parents’ death, Isaac and Chris wanted to cheer up Ethan and they went out on Christmas eve. That became a tradition, so every year they go out and perform Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis at a karaoke bar (at this point, a short plug for the cast’s good chemistry as can be seen in this episode of Lip Sync Battle) and similarly fun things. This year, however, is the last time they’re able to do that as Isaac is becoming a father and Chris had his breakthrough as an athlete. They also want Ethan to finally grow up as he is not very successful, neither in his professional nor his personal life. His amazing girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) broke up with him as he wasn’t ready to get serious. In a Christmas miracle, Ethan gets hold of tickets to a secret infamous Christmas party. On their traditional tour, the guys run into Diana and her friend (Mindy Kaling), who will also go to the party, making it even more mandatory for Ethan that they go. However, Isaac got a box of drugs from his wife (Jillian Bell, 22 Jump Street) for his last time out as a non-father and is tripping almost throughout the evening. Chris is more busy trying to impress his teammates. So the movie deals with the ramifications of this turbulent evening for their friendship and with Ethan trying to win back Diana.

Every one of the story threads is interesting in its own way and in combination with the overarching plot concerning the group as a whole the movie never drags. That also has a lot to do with the humor. Of course you have to be susceptible to Seth Rogen humor but fortunately I am. However, the movie comprises typical Rogen humor as he is tripping out for almost the entire runtime as well as some strong comedic performances by women. The Grinch (Ilana Glazer, Broad City) offers some nice allusions to Christmas movies, Jillian Bell bantering with Rogen is fun and Mindy Kaling also has some good lines. Lizzy Caplan excels at being likeable: Her character is very quick on her feet in her banter with Ethan while simultaneously selling the sincere emotional moments, making the scenes with those two absolute highlights of the movie. Rogen’s trips are diverse enough to not get boring or annoying as he ingests a number of different drugs. Moreover, there are a number of talented comedic actors in very minor roles. While none of them bring down any scene, I gotta highlight Michael Shannon’s brief appearances as it’s a very unusual but pretty memorable role. All the actors have a good chemistry and that swaps over onto the screen, which is what makes the character moments work.

The movie didn’t strive for the maximum amount of laughs but takes its time to establish the characters, their motivations and relations. This is what makes The Night Before a successful Christmas movie: While I found it very entertaining and fun (as I grinned and laughed a lot and occasionally pretty heavily), the movie manages to evoke the optimistic spirit of reconciliation with one’s loved ones so typical for Christmas movies, casting a big smile on my face (but also without being cheesy). I can see myself watching this movie with friends regularly in the holiday season.

4v5


Spoiler

Michael Shannon as Mr Green is a very interesting recurring character. I liked his Great Gatsby allusions and the message his character brought to the table. However, I was not crazy about the flashbacks in his car and the weakest part was the very last scene, rounding up the narration frame. The beginning was cool with funny rhymes but the end did not do anything for me, it was too bad the movie concluded on a bad note.

The scene in the church was pretty funny as that is perfect situational comedy. This sacred place where everyone watches everyone else’s behavior and then there’s Isaac tripping out and swearing while vomiting. Also the crucification joke with him as a Jew paid off in the fight they’re having at the party (“It’s happening again!”). Rogen also crushed me with his reactions to the dick pics.

The Miley Cyrus appearance was funny with some good lines and the Wreckingball sequence that made me grin a lot but then there was the intentionally cringeworthy proposal, which is stuff I cannot handle well.

The conversaton betweeen Diana and Ethan at the end of the movie was very sincere. I liked that not only the guy has to apologize and come out wiser but that Diana also admits in a very likeable way that she’s been asking about Ethan all the time. This dialogue demonstrated character development and also authenticity, which is what makes this movie strong and heartwarming.


shorter German version:

Eine angenehme Überraschung. Ich finde Seth Rogen ja ziemlich sympathisch und auch wenn seine Masche langsam eintönig finde, war ich interessiert, weil Regisseur Levine schon mit Rogen und Gordon-Levitt bei 50-50 zusammengearbeitet hat. Hier erreicht er eine ähnlich schöne Mischung aus Emotionen und Humor: The Night Before ist ein Film über einen wilden, aufregenden Partyabend und aber auch gleichzeitig eine irgendwie doch besinnliche Weihnachtskomödie, die schön unklischeehaft ist und manch witzige Anspielung auf Weihnachten und Weihnachtsfilme beinhaltet. Die Geschichte der drei Jungs hat eine nette Tradition und es macht Spaß, die drei, die eine sehr gute Chemie haben, zusammen zu sehen; doch es geht nicht nur um Partymachen und Freundschaft, auch in den einzelnen Storysträngen, von denen jeder weitestgehend interessant ist, stecken weihnachtliche Botschaften. Seth Rogen ist zwar fast den ganzen Film auf Drogen, doch dadurch entstehen viele absurde und dadurch witzige (sofern man auf Rogen-Humor steht) Situationen und auch innerhalb der verschiedenen Drogen gab es für mich genügend Abwechslung. Anthony Mackie bleibt hier am blassesten und hat auch verglichen die am wenigsten spannende Geschichte. JGL ist als sympathischer Loser das Herz des Films und seine Szenen zusammen mit der tollen Lizzy Caplan sind für mich die Highlights des Films, weil sie sehr schlagfertig extrem witzig sein kann und weil die ernsthaften emotionalen Momente zwischen den beiden gut funktionieren. Auch in den Nebenrollen ist der Film gut besetzt, keiner versaut seine Stelle; hier ist Michael Shannon in einer sehr ungewöhnlichen Rolle wohl hervorzuheben, sehr sympathische Nebenrolle. Aber auch der Grinch, Jillian Bell und Mindy Kaling sorgen für einige Lacher. Diese Mischung aus Bromance- und weiblichem, aber gleichzeitig auch derbem Humor gibt ihm viel Abwechslung, sodass ich einige Male herzlich auflachen musste. Dadurch und durch die interessante narrative Struktur wird der Film nie langweilig, sondern bleibt durchweg unterhaltsam. Könnte für mich zu einem alljährlichen Weihnachtsfilm werden.


Poster taken from imdb.com, © by Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures

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