If the sentimentality of “Christmas With The Coopers” doesn’t get your fairy lights twinkling and the spooky shenanigans of “Krampus” leave your pudding more duff than plum, perhaps bawdy festive comedy “The Night Before” will put the snap back in your Christmas cracker.
From the director and stars of “50/50”, “The Night Before” tells the story of Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), friends since childhood who for the past decade have held an annual reunion on Christmas Eve. As time has passed and their lives have moved on, they’ve agreed that this year’s night of debauchery and hilarity will be the last. But this Christmas Eve, after years of trying, they’ve finally scored tickets to the legendarily exclusive ‘Nutcracker Ball’, New York’s invitation only Holy Grail of Christmas parties.
Underneath all the sex and drugs and misadventures, “The Night Before” is a wry and snarky update of Charles Dickens’ perennial movie plot provider “A Christmas Carol” as we see the three friends guided through an evening of self-discovery courtesy of the weed of Christmases past, present and future provided by the mystically gnomic drug dealer Mr Green (Michael Shannon). Under his sage guidance, Isaac confronts his future, Chris deals with his present and Ethan finally comes to terms with his past. Shannon is wonderful in this and almost steals the entire picture away from the three leads like some comedy acting Grinch.
Framed by a narration and coda featuring Tracy Morgan, the movie provides plenty of laugh out loud moments (mostly coming from Rogen’s Isaac tripping balls throughout the movie) but the film never quite gels together, belying its unusual production style. While the dramatic beats of the story were laid out in the script, most of the humour was improvised but then when you have a cast this good, why wouldn’t you let them go to town? Apart from the three leads, there are brief roles for Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell and Mindy Kaling alongside the inevitable James Franco cameo. Even Miley Cyrus gets in on the action – but don’t let that put you off.
As you’d expect from the camera of Jonathan Levine, the pen of Evan Goldberg (and others) and the mouth of Seth Rogen, “The Night Before” is a bawdy, profane and drug-fuelled scattergun comedy that just about manages to pull off the requisite happy festive ending. It may not become a universally beloved holiday classic, but it’s certainly fun enough to deserve a slot in your yearly Christmas movie rotation.