When you have Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie high off their asses each encountering a vision of Christmas past, present, and future, it’s an R-rated wonderful life!
“The Night Before” stars the three actors as lifelong friends – Ethan, Isaac, and Chris. The trio have a Christmas Eve tradition of debauchery to keep Ethan cheerful (he lost his parents on Christmas Eve), but that’s coming to an end due to Chris’s rising fame and Isaac’s growing family. What better way to go down with a bang than crash a Gatsby-style Christmas party?
I know the plot sounds formulaic,but there’s a breath of fresh air brought into this worn out formula, due to the cast. Gordon-Levitt is a lovable hot mess who only celebrates Christmas his way, Rogen goes from straight man to drugged-out lunatic and goes on the craziest vision quest, and Mackie is torn between his ego and friends.
The three of them each learn something after a series of misadventures involving drunken Santa Clauses, frequent encounters with an eccentric pot dealer (a wonderful Michael Shannon), and a hipster girl who aspires to be a real-life Grinch (Ilana Glazer).
These encounters also add some brief emotional depth as the Grinch self-righteously lectures Chris on his selfish behavior and Shannon’s Mr. Greene helps the friends grow up through his magical weed.
Director Jonathan Levine previously directed Gordon-Levitt and Rogen in the highly underrated “50/50” and he once again brings the best comedic talents from both actors whilst restraining them. His direction also adds a mildly surreal and artistic flare with golden lighting present throughout.
It’s very hard to find a decent holiday movie these days, let alone a decent R-rated one that doesn’t get caught up in a mean-spirited tone, but “The Night Before” manages to balance vulgar humor well with a heartfelt holiday message.