#REVIEW: “THE NIGHT BEFORE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Since the sudden death of Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) parents around the holidays, his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have taken him out each Christmas Eve for one drunken and drug-fueled party after another. After 14 years, the group decide they will stop the yearly tradition and go out with a bang. And with tickets to a mysterious holiday party in hand, anything can happen along the way.
I initially wanted to describe The Night Before as a reinvention of the Holiday Film genre. But thinking about the Film and how ridiculously-hilarious it was, I want to call it a complete perversion – in the nicest way possible. Like Bad Santa before it, it takes the genre by the throat and then skewers it in the most outrageously possible ways. It references and pays homage to many classics, but then forges its own path. No tradition is safe, nor any religious iconography (I feel like Rogen has a contractual requirement to joke about some element of the Catholic Church). Some of the laughs feel obvious and a bit too cleanly mapped-out, while others are chaotic and wildly erratic. No matter how the humour comes, I nearly cried from laughing in more than one instance.
The re-pairing of Gordon-Levitt and Rogen delivers just as much comedic gold as you would expect, despite their playing stock characters. Mackie adds to the mix, continuing to prove his weight as a go-to supporting character. Small turns from Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling and Workaholic’s Jillian Bell are all well done, and some of the cameo players are even better. But the Film’s undisputed MVP is Michael Shannon as the group’s drug dealer Mr. Green. He lowers his trademark intensity down considerably for the wise Ghost of Christmas… character, but never loses his focus or edge. Every moment he has on-screen is memorable, giving the best lines and chomping on all the scenery. This is an absolutely hysterical performance, and the kind I can only hope he revisits quickly.
While The Night Before excels with its comedic elements, it falters with its dramatic beats. The stakes are set almost immediately, but they lack emphasis and the Film has an incredibly difficult time convincing us the motivations are not as thin as they appear. Worse, the dramatic scenes drag the Film down, taking away from its infectious energy and slowing nearly everything to a complete halt. Mackie’s subplot suffers the worst, feeling completely shoehorned in as an after-thought – along with some half-baked satire on professional sports and the importance of social media. The Film relies a bit too much of drug use as well (even if it leads to the single funniest scene in the whole movie). It gets far too distracting in some instances, coming off as more of a crutch than anything else. Even a Stoner Movie like A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas uses less drugs to get the point across.
I was not prepared for how wild a ride The Night Before quickly becomes, so you may need to strap on before that nostalgic Columbia logo pops up. Despite its flaws, this is easily one of the funniest Films of the year. The jokes are hysterical, and the cast is a lot of fun. And it packs what may be the best performance of Michael Shannon’s career – or at least the one you will never forget. I look forward to adding it to my rotation of holiday favourites to watch every Christmas.
Sony Pictures Canada release THE NIGHT BEFORE Friday, November 20, 2015.