This particular group of friends has worked together a lot – and that does make for stronger comedy. The Night Before feels most similar to This is the End – which if you missed, featured most of this group of friends playing themselves on their way to James Franco’s house party as the world ends - literally. That one too was mostly drug-fueled low-brow comic bits with occasional touching friendship moments.
Ethan, Isaac, and Chris have been best friends since high school – 14 years ago, Ethan’s parents were killed in a car crash, just before Christmas. Isaac and Chris resolved that he would never spend Christmas Eve alone, and so for the last 14 years, they have spent Christmas Eve together, doing the same random things. Well, Chris is now a big-time pro football player, and Isaac is about to have a baby, so they have agreed that this will be the last Christmas Eve that they have this tradition.
Isaac’s wife is so grateful that he has been so prepared and supportive during the pregnancy that she gives him a little box filled with drugs before he heads out with the guys so that he can have a good time. Isaac is thrilled with the box, but has been secretly panicking and worrying that he’s not ready for the baby.
Chris has been playing football for a long time, but has suddenly become successful. We learn that he’s just recently started doing steroids because ‘everyone else is’, but to him it’s worth it, because the top-tier players on his team now know who he is. He’s feeling a little guilty, and has been avoiding his mother, even though he’s in town for the holiday.
Ethan is still stuck in a rut after losing his parents, he had a great girlfriend who wanted things to take the next step, but Ethan panicked about the commitment, and sabotaged the relationship. He’s just now beginning to realize that he loves her.
Those are the character traits for the three leads that they must deal with throughout the course of the night. As they start the night, they being their normal traditions, however, their buried issues start coming up as they run into Ethan’s ex and her friend, Isaac gets way too high, and Chris gets sidetracked by trying to find weed for his quarterback on the way to a secret Christmas party. It again is mostly drug-fueled low-brow comic bits with occasional touching friendship moments.
Honestly the movie is exactly what you think it is. Directed by Jonathan Levine, who previously did 50/50 and Warm Bodies, it’s certainly well-done, and parts are really funny. Much of the comedy is improvised, which pays off well when you have actors that know and like each other in real life. However, as with most of the movies by this crew, the female characters are barely two dimensional, which is a shame, because they have some really great comediennes in the movie. Also – the drug use is almost constant and without any repercussion. But, in the end, the three work through their issues, and each of them grows a little bit. They reevaluate and strengthen their friendship throughout the course of the night, and there are some touching moments.
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another young actor who undoubtedly has an Oscar in his future. He’s very good as the stationary Ethan. JGL is able to take a character that could be fairly unlikeable (he’s really stuck in the past and a little stalker-y to his ex) and turn him into a sympathetic character who we really want to see turn his life around by the end of the movie. Honestly, without JGL’s likability, this character could have been really annoying!
- Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen – he has some truly funny moments, especially the scene you’ve seen in all the commercials where he ends up at Midnight Mass with his wife and her family after doing much of the drugs she put in the box for him.
- Anthony Mackie goes all out as football star Chris Roberts, whose social media game is “on point”. He gets some really funny moments as he desperately tries to get the quarterback to like him.
- One of the biggest losses the movie has is that it cast Jillian Bell as Betsy, Isaac’s wife, and gives her almost nothing to do – she absolutely stole 22 Jump Street – and it’s a shame that they don’t give her anything insane in this movie. She’s wonderful as Isaac’s supporting wife, but I found myself wishing she was able to get into some hijinks of her own.
- Lizzy Caplan is certainly capable as Diana – Ethan’s ex. I do have a major issue, but again – it’s with the writing, not her. More on that later!
- Mindy Kaling is also criminally underused. Whether or not you watch the Mindy Project (and you probably should – it’s hilarious), you can agree she’s an amazing comedian – it’s a shame to have her just as the ‘ex’s best friend’. It gives her nothing to do aside from fighting with Isaac for James Franco’s affections – seriously. Franco gets to play himself with the volume turned way up - I hope it's turned up and that's not really how he is!
- Ilana Glazer is one of the female comics who actually gets some funny scenes – she’s one half of the team behind Broad City – and she brings some raunchy Grinch-iness to this movie as she seduces Chris and steals the weed he procured for his beloved quarterback.
- Michael Shannon plays the guys’ weed dealer – Mr. Green and he steals this movie. He’s creepy (he’s always creepy) and hilarious! He helps each guy realize what their issues are and what they need to do to overcome them. The weed dealer is the conscious of the movie? Sheesh.
It's genuinely funny - and really well put together. If you enjoy these guys in anything else - you will love this movie. It’s a hard R because of the language, the excessive drug use and some pointless nudity. My biggest issue, and really it’s probably not a surprise considering the performers and writers ( I say this with all their movies) is the lack of strength in the female characters. At this point, I should accept it and stop complaining about it - but I can't help it - especially when they cast such talented ladies! The one thing that upset me in particular is that Diana (and her friend) encounter the guys at the karaoke bar early on, and they learn they are all going to the same secret party. Overcome with guilt at ending their relationship and spurred on by Miley Cyrus (never take advice from Miley Cyrus) Ethan suddenly proposes to Diana on stage at the party.
Diana says yes, because she’s surrounded by people, but as soon as they get a moment alone, she lets him know that it’s not fair to propose to her like that when they’ve been separated for months. She tells him that she’s not ready to marry him, because after all, when she wanted to move to a stronger commitment, he backed out of the relationship. The next morning – he shows up at her parent’s house to tell her he’s still in love with her. Now, this is great for a movie – but in real life – that is so incredibly inappropriate and uncomfortable and really stalker-y. But, hey – rom-com rules apply here, and instead of being exceptionally creeped out that this maniac proposed to her then followed her to her parents’ house, she’s charmed and invites him in to meet her parents (which he had refused to do when they were dating). The movie justifies it by having Diana state that she did miss him and went to the karaoke bar and the party because she knew that Ethan would be there. I guess that makes it okay? It just really made me uncomfortable – but I’m going to assume that’s just me, and again – while it would be weird in real life – it works just fine as a happy ending to the movie.
6 out of 10- Gained points for the happy ending – lost points for the reason listed above – gained points for Michael Shannon’s performance, also simultaneously gained and lost for Tracey Morgan.
Bonus Video 1 – The guys on Lip Sync Battle – hilarious!
Bonus Video 2 – If you want an excellent JGL rom-com – check out (500) Days of Summer
Bonus Video 3 – cast interviews