Anthony Mackie, Seth Rogen, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in director Jonathan Levine’s ‘The Night Before’

Originally posted on CutPrintFilm.

A ways through The Night Before, you start to gain a sense of deja vu. Sure, you’ve seen the Christmas cliches and tropes before — from the past, present, future conceit to the coming together at the end of the night — but it also rings familiar to the comedy genre as a whole. Similarities are almost indiscernible between the most successful of recent comedy movies with the drug-induced lunacy, the profanity-laden jabs, and the improvisational nature of the whole adventure that controls the crux of this movie. The Night Before becomes not only another trip down Christmas past, but yet another fall into the uninspired spiral of comedy movies in the last two decades.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t enjoyable. It is easy to forgive Seth Rogen for dropping shrooms and rumbling around the setting, Joseph Gordon-Levitt sharing his almost god-like ability to lip-synch anything to perfection, and the infectious charm of Anthony Mackie as he ties together the group. But there is something missing from The Night Before, a movie that is directed by Jonathan Levine who helmed the brutally underrated 50/50 before it, and that missing link comes from the emotional tug.

Much like in 50/50, there is a human component Levine is trying to portray, but doesn’t make the most impact until the very end. The fact that more mayhem and drugs had to be placed in the script to meet the common comedic quota, this emotional tug becomes overshadowed and forgotten, leaving this sweet tale of friendship stale as if it were an old piece of pie left over from Christmas past.

The Night Before follows three friends — Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) — who started a tradition of getting wild on Christmas following the death of Ethan’s parents, which happened on Christmas Eve. The tradition is dying though, thanks to the instant fame set upon Chris due to his rising football career and the arrival of a baby for Isaac and his wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell).

Ethan is lost among this progression, a typical stagnant cog in the machine of life. Ethan is so stagnant, he is about one old angel away from going into a dazed recollection of what life would be like without him. But life, and especially love, is gone for him after he decided to break things off with Diana (Lizzy Caplan) after she wanted to introduce him to her parents and commit and he balked.

At the heart of The Night Before is the lesson that while we all grow up and become older, there is still that constant stream of comradery and friendship that keeps us leveled and reminds us who we truly are. In 50/50, Levine was able to walk along the fine line of cancer drama and comedy while also issuing strong, smart laughs and generated true human emotion towards the situation facing the lead character (also played by Gordon-Levitt and Rogen). But this time, it almost feels like the movie was stolen.

In place of the tender moments are scenes that feel peeled from Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, or 21 Jump Street, making the film’s moments entertaining but wholly unoriginal and forgettable. It almost becomes formulaic — Rogen does too many drugs and starts to trip out while Mackie and Gordon-Levitt go a little too far over the edge and play out of character at times.

Each performer is able to pull it off, but in the end, it just makes you go “we’ve seen this show before…and better.” Levine was able to weave sentimentality into 50/50 so it was never beating you over the head with its message, but still was able to sting your core. The Night Before begins to work on that, but not until the closing 30 minutes, when everything is expected to wrapped up and all sentimentality feels forced and unearned.

But this isn’t completely the fault of Levine (or even the film), instead, it just becomes yet another part of a growing trend in comedy that relies more heavily on improv and trippy gags in order to generate laughs. Those are fine, but the brand should feel different each time out and that hasn’t been the case. A lack of visual comedy is taking over Hollywood, and The Night Before follows suit with the hits that came before it.

The movie is never bad, and parts of it are excellent (we should just sign up Michael Shannon for every movie from now on), but the ones that count are lacking in skill. The Night Before wants to evoke the pleasure of Christmas classics in a more modern, grotesque way, but instead, becomes more of the same.

Hopefully this is just another example of comedy present and not the ghost of comedy future.


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