Monday, November 23, 2015

Movie Review #344: "The Night Before" (2015)

Movie"The Night Before"
Director: Jonathan Levine
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
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Ethan's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) parents died on Christmas eve in 2001. Every year since then, he and his two best friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) get together on that day so Ethan won't have to be alone during the holiday. Usually, the three lifelong pals drink to excess and party all night, but this year is different. Ethan has stolen 3 tickets to the Nutcracker Ball, an exclusive and elusive New York City party they have been trying to get into for years, and since Isaac's wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) is about to have a baby and Chris is a famous NFL football player and no longer has time to hang out, they decide to do it up right and see what mischief they can get into with only the Christmas spirit, 3 goofy Christmas sweaters, and a tiny box of drugs supplied by Betsy for their final hurrah, and things don't quite go as planned.

This has not been a good year for new Christmas movies. "Love the Coopers" left an extremely sour taste in our mouths, and lately, we have been sort of cautious when going into movies starring Seth Rogen. He has a habit of making the same movies over and over and over again where he and his bros get together and take copious amounts of drugs and get into hijinks. Well, the only real difference in "The Night Before" is that it involves the Christmas holiday, but we are pleased to say this film is a riot. We laughed waaay more than we expected to, and even the portions of the movie showcased in the trailer made us laugh again once actually watching it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Ethan, a 33 year old man who lost his parents to a drunk driving accident in 2001. His best friends Isaac, played by Seth Rogen, and Chris, played by 2015 workaholic Anthony Mackie, have spent every Christmas since with him to ensure he's not alone during the holiday. This year is the trio's final hurrah as Isaac and Chris are growing up, moving on with their lives, and starting families and careers on their own. Upon stealing tickets to the illustrious Nutcracker Ball, the three, armed with only tradition, Red Bull, and a little box full of every drug imaginable, they set off on a wild night they won't soon forget.

Now, a movie full of drug abuse and alcohol consumption probably won't ring any Christmas bells to most moviegoers. "The Night Before" surprisingly managed to capture and embody the spirit of the holiday season much more than the traditional cookie-cutter Christmastime films of the past few years. Unlike "Love the Coopers," which is a miserable, awful, depressing, non-joyous and non-joyful movie masquerading itself as a feel-good Christmas comedy, "The Night Before" actually has laughs a-plenty, bonding, Christmas cheer, and shows that family is what you make it, even if it doesn't include blood relatives. Rogen, Mackie, and Gordon-Levitt, though drunk or coked out of their gourds almost the entire film as characters, have excellent chemistry with one another, and even though they clearly bonded out of necessity in the beginning, they truly became the best of friends over time. We believe these three as people who would do anything for one another. Arguably the best part of this movie, though, doesn't involve the three main actors. Michael Shannon, who we have really come to love this year between "99 Homes" and this, has a hilariously wonderful supporting part as Mr. Green, a drug dealer who worked at their high school and seemingly knows everything about the intimate details of their lives despite not having seeing them for over a decade. Through his magical weed, he takes each of the guys on a "Christmas Carol" type of adventure of their present, past, or future. That's another really great quality of this film: it references and pays homage to the great holiday classics that came before it, like "Home Alone," "It's A Wonderful Life," and the greatest Christmas movie of all time, "Die Hard." It never uses those references willy nilly. Each of those observances, product placements, and other holiday fare (such as Christmas trees, Christmas lights, or Santas in the background) either have a point within the context of the story or are done in a self-aware, meta type of way. None of them feel thrown in like they did in "Love the Coopers." I'm starting to think this is less of a review for "The Night Before" and more of a hate speech written about "Hate the Poopers."

In the end, "The Night Before" is a great Christmas film and one we wouldn't mind pulling out each holiday to re-watch. It's much more funny than you might think, but still manages to be heartfelt and sweetly sentimental, even if the end portion featuring a cursing, drinking, clearly try-hard Miley Cyrus is the only thing that doesn't fit. Give this one a go, but not if you're really sensitive to bad language, nudity, anti-religious holiday themes, drug use, and general blasphemy.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 65%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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