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'The Night Before' Film Review: A laugh-out-loud and surprisingly heartfelt Christmas bromance

November 18, 2015Ben MK

When it comes to Christmas movie traditions, we all have our favorites, whether it's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, or Home Alone. But what if someone took all the great holiday classics, chucked them in a blender, and added a touch of bromance? And then what if they cast Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as the leads? Well you might end up with something like the raucous Christmas comedy The Night Before.

In it, Rogen, Gordon-Levitt and Mackie play three "ride-or-die homies" named Isaac, Ethan and Chris, whose Christmas tradition for the past 14 years — ever since the death of Ethan's parents — has been to hang out with each other on Christmas Eve, get piss drunk and make asses of themselves. But now that they're all in their thirties, that tradition is about to come to an end. Isaac and his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) are expecting their first child, and Chris' pro-football career is finally taking off. Only Ethan remains stuck in the past, still pining for ex-girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan), the girl who got away.

Then something magical happens: Ethan finds three tickets to the most elusive party in New York City, the Nutcracka Ball, the annual, by-invitation-only extravaganza that he and his friends have been trying desperately to weasel their way into for years. And not only that, but Diana will be there too. Now Ethan and his two best buds are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime — not just a night filled with booze, every illicit drug known to man and, of course, ugly Christmas sweaters; but truly a night to remember. For this is one night before Christmas that will change all of their lives forever.

Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by him, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir and Evan Goldberg, The Night Before may look like just another excuse for Seth Rogen to run around sweating, panting and acting like a madman who's high on cocaine, weed, and 'shrooms (he did it in Pineapple Express, and it's incredibly entertaining to watch him do his shtick here as well). But make no mistake, beneath all the jokes about religion and male genitalia lies a genuinely touching and heartfelt story about the true meaning of Christmas: family and friends.

Of course, it's not easy for a movie to try and be sincere in that fashion without coming off as artificial. And The Night Before does struggle a bit in that arena, at least early on. As it stumbles to bring together the individual narrative tangents for Isaac, Ethan and Chris, all of whom have a different end goal in mind for the night, viewers may notice something of a disconnect between the humor of the script and the heart of the story. But once the movie hits its stride, it becomes very easy to lose yourself in it, so much so that you may not even anticipate the emotional wallop waiting for you at the end.

No, the emotional underpinnings of the story aren't on the same level as Levine's breakout film, 50/50 (which had Rogen playing best friend to a cancer-stricken Gordon-Levitt). But for a movie in which Michael Shannon plays the trio's drug-dealing guardian angel, Tracy Morgan plays an irreverent Santa, and a certain celebrity with the first name James texts dick pics to a stoned-out-of-his-mind Isaac, the story's dramatic core is surprisingly solid. Factor in the hilarious supporting cast, including Mindy Kaling and Broad City's Ilana Glazer, and you can consider The Night Before your new holiday tradition.

The Night Before releases November 20th, 2015 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 41 Mins.

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