The one thing I am hoping we can all agree on, at least when it comes to the holiday season, is that if there’s any time to get super drunk, engage in wild amounts of debauchery and party until stupid hours of the morning, it’s the holiday season. Think about it; Spring Break is a good enough excuse for such acts, but you’re away from home for it most of the time, and the same thing can be said about summer vacations. But very few people have to even leave the city for the holiday season, and so naturally that means more time to hang out with local friends and get shitfaced. But there’s more to it than that- it’s the time you get to spend with your friends that matters. That’s really what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Spending time with family and friends and putting all your bullshit behind you for at least just a night? And not to mention that good old tradition of… whatever it is you do at Christmas. Well the joy of old tradition is what drives the latest comedy from the Sony Pictures/Evan Goldberg machine, The Night Before.Warning: Potential spoilers ahead
I think what makes The Night Before such a satisfying movie going experience is that everyone who is over the age of 18 will find themselves relating to it in some way or another. As predicted, the film is exactly as the trailers advertise it- The Hangover by way of The Interview with a twist of LSD-spiked Christmas Egg Nog. But surprisingly there’s more to it than that. My favourite types of holiday films are the films that don’t thrust Christmas in your face for the better part of two hours but rather the ones that take place during Christmas, with an actual story- to name a few; White Christmas, Bad Santa, Die Hard, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Home Alone and even my absolute favourite Christmas movie of all time, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And this film is one of those types of films- a film about three friends doing their last ever of their Christmas eve tradition of getting fucked up in the worst way possible. But what’s truly surprising about it, and perhaps even more so coming from the people behind The Interview, is that there’s actual character to these characters, and that the film, while not spending 5 minutes setting them up for you because apparently you’re a moron, gives you time to get to know them before jumping right into the senseless debauchery. It takes time developing these three characters and giving you a reason to actually like them. And even better, all of this is over and done with by the 12 minute mark, something that’s becoming a bit of a rarity in movies nowadays.
The three characters- Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Chris (Anthony Mackie), and Isaac (Seth Rogen) have all been friends since childhood. One tragic Christmas season, Ethan’s mother died, and to help break him out of the funk, Chris and Ethan take him on a night out on the town on Christmas eve, hitting up as many bars, pubs, and clubs as possible. They’ve been making this their tradition for 14 years, but in recent years, the tradition has been getting stale. Furthermore, they’re all about to deal with big changes. Isaac is about to be a father, Chris is a famous football player, yet Ethan is heartbroken over the breakup of a girlfriend and can’t move on. So this year, this tradition will be for the last time. However, it all becomes more special when Ethan gets his hands on a set of tickets for The Nutcracker Ball, considered by New Yorkers to be the be-all-end-all of Christmas parties on Christmas eve, and a much coveted tradition that few can get their hands on tickets to. So the three jump in the limo and take to the streets to make a night out on the town that they won’t soon forget- and by god, if what happens is any indication, they probably won’t forget this night at all.
That’s really all that needs to be said about the plot of the film. Much of the film’s fun is just sitting back and watching the boys repeatedly get in as many pickles as they possibly could. Whether it’s nosebleeding in someone’s drink, getting unsolicited dick pics (which ends up being a set-up for an even greater gag), ending up at midnight mass while stoned out of your mind (and subsequently barfing and yelling “fuck me Jesus“), or getting beaten up by department store Santas, the film puts us front and center on their blunder-filled night. It pulls no punches as to the situations they end up in, and it’s better for it- hell, movies like these don’t need to be filled with thought provoking social commentary. And the film’s biggest laughs come from the moments where the film is at its most audacious. Isaac is perhaps the character where the film’s audacity seems to follow most- hell, his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives him a box filled with all sorts of drugs, and so you know before they hop into the Red Bull-sponsored limo that his character is where the shit will hit the fan most. And he really does bring in the film’s biggest laughs. He has the film’s most outrageous lines (even being one of only two characters to use the word “cunt” in the film, and in an extremely offensive context too), and while this would grow tiresome in any other movie, this film also does a good job at not hyper-focusing on this. Additionally, Chris is where much of the film’s energetic feel comes from. He’s definitely the most likable character in the movie- his energy and his passion for what he does, combined with how much he cares for his friends and also how smart he is make for a well-rounded comic character, and he even has some of the best lines too (“She just Home Aloned me!”).
Unsurprisingly, the film’s most dramatically satisfying character is Ethan. The film’s opening scenes display this perfectly, with the first scene being set at his mother’s funeral. And so naturally, watching him become the kind of character who can’t really move on (especially with the subplot of his refusal to meet his ex-girlfriend Diana’s (Lizzy Caplan) parents). And so of course, he ends up becoming the buzzkill of the night. But there’s a lot more to him than that- he runs into Diana at their first destination, which is a karaoke bar, and while it first appears that he’s moved on, that encounter leads him to realize that he really hasn’t, and so the film explores the theme of lost love surprisingly well in the midst of all the rude and vulgar jokes, and this ends up having a surprisingly excellent payoff, in addition to Isaac’s baby drama, which isn’t quite as prominent. Another recurring character is the “Mr. Green” character, played by Michael Shannon, a weed dealer who lives in his car, who ends up being the “Christmas wise man” of the whole ordeal. He isn’t shown much in the film, but Shannon has just the timing needed for this kind of role, surprising for an actor known for his more uptight characters.
But really, the best thing about The Night Before is just how well it balances the audacity with actual themes and context, and making you care for the characters as opposed to just sticking them in dumb situations for the better part of its 102 minute runtime. Even being less of a Christmas movie than a comedy set at Christmas, there’s a feeling of joy throughout, and a subtle yet heartfelt reminder of just how magical Christmas can be, even without beating you over the head with a message of the true meaning of Christmas. Nope, it’s made clear here that the true meaning of Christmas is the time you spend with your loved ones, indulging in traditions and truly appreciating your time together, even if most of it is going through this hilariously debaucherous trouble to end up at this big party that’s the Holy Grail of Christmas parties. Better yet, while it’s clear that this won’t end up being known as one of those “Christmas greats” like A Christmas Story or any pre-2009 adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Carol, it’ll end up joining the ranks “Alternative” Christmas movies with cult followings like Bad Santa or Christmas Vacation. So if you like a bit of drunken and drugged debauchery with your Christmas cheer, don’t hesitate to take in a viewing of The Night Before– you’ll end up walking out of the cinema with that warm and fuzzy “Christmas” feel.