As far as hard-R Christmas comedies go, The Night Before isn’t quite up there with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa. As far as Seth Rogen comedies go, its note quite up there with Pineapple Express and This is the End. As far as Jonathan Levine’s movies go, it’s not quite up there with 50/50 and Warm Bodies. If you’re looking for a stoner Christmas comedy, though, the film does have more than enough laughs and holiday cheer to go around. That’s more than can be said about A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and especially Eight Crazy Nights.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Ethan, a thirty-something-year-old who can’t hold onto a job and recently got dumped by his girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan). After the death of his parents in 2001, Ethan has spent every Christmas with his two best buddies, Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Isaac (Seth Rogen). Now that Chris is an all-star athlete that drives around in a Red Bull limbo and Isaac is a successful lawyer with a baby on the way, they feel that its time to branch off from their annual tradition with Ethan. To go out with a bang, however, they decide to spend one last Christmas Eve decking the halls with booze and drugs.
The three leads all have great chemistry together, but Rogen’s Isaac is the comedic force that makes this movie. Before setting out with his friends, Isaac is given a box of drugs from his expecting wife (Jillian Bell), who believes her hubby deserves to cut lose. Granted, it’s pretty contrived that any sane adult would give their spouse cocaine for Christmas. We’re willing to overlook this, however, because it sends Isaac on one of the most uproarious trips you’ll ever see. Rogen’s based his entire career on playing immature druggies, but never have we seen him this wacked out. He kills it in every scene, most notably an exchange with a baby in a church.
As for the rest of the ensemble, Michael Shannon is disturbingly hilarious as Mr. Green, a drug dealer who may be a guardian angel in disguise. Mindy Kaling also gets in on the laughs as a woman who mixes up phones with Isaac, amounting to an awkward texting session with a stranger named James. The invaluable Ilana Glazer steals the show as a compulsive Grinch that wishes to steal Christmas. The film also includes three of the most memorable cameos you’ll see all year, but I won’t spoil them here. Consider that my Christmas gift to you.
As much fun as the supporting cast is, The Night Before always keeps its focus on the three guys. In the midst of all the madness, the film does manage to work in some themes regarding friendship and growing up. Granted, these themes aren’t anything new and some of the emotional subplots could have dug a little deeper. Even if it doesn’t balance comedy and touching moments as well as something like Home Alone, The Night Before is a fitting companion to go with a glass of spiked eggnog.