The Night Before is a Christmas stoner-comedy that delivers just enough laughs to entertain, although doesn’t quite deliver on its promise as a stoner version of A Christmas Carol. Directed by Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies), the film is a drug and alcohol induced trip filled with festive spirit, which also speaks of growing up and facing adulthood, although contains a fair amount of at times distracting product placement, like a Red Bull stretch-limousines played for laughs.
After losing his parents in a tragic accident, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is comforted by his friends, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), who take him on a bender that leads them from karaoke to Chinese food, and then to the FAO Schwarz piano, starting an annual tradition. But now over a decade later, Isaac is starting a family and Chris has become a famous pro-footballer, leaving little time or interest in continuing this yearly event. As Ethan comes to terms with ending a tradition he has intently held on to, they hope that moving on will help him face adulthood and his problems to commit. Their only regret though is that they were never able to find tickets to the elusive Nutcracka Ball. So when Ethan gets his hands on three tickets, it seems like the perfect way to end their yearly ritual, and gives him one more chance with his ex-girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan) who is also attending.
Rogen (The Interview) seems the most at home, and he certainly gets the most laughs, with a highlight being his wandering into a church while high on a concoction of drugs. Gordon-Levitt (The Walk) is mostly left to play the straight man, while Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) gets to stretch his comedic chops but sources his character’s humour on his cockiness, which is rather hit and miss. The biggest disappointment of the film is its complete underuse of its awesome cast of female actors. Alongside Caplan (Masters of Sex), the film stars Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Jillian Bell (Workaholics), and while the latter at least gets a few laughs playing Rogen’s wife, there’s a serious lack in allowing these three talented women to get in on the over the top humour.
The film gimmick is that it calls back to A Christmas Carol, with the trio having to face Christmas Past-Present-and Future in some regard, but it seems at odds with simultaneously being a straight stoner comedy. While some of the crazier elements play up the Christmas spirit of the film, the rest attempts a more realistic approach of three friends entering into adulthood. With over five screenwriters credited, it’s clear that many hands have touched the story, but it would have done well to either fully embrace more from the classic Christmas tale, or discard the gimmick completely and instead deliver an original Christmas tale of it’s own.
While never reaching the hilarity of Superbad, The Night Before is a good step up above The Interview, but still leaves a lot to be desired.