“The Night Before” is not one of those movies. Sure, it’s filled with the spirit of Christmas past, present and future, love and other familiar themes, but this Seth Rogen movie also puts the X in Xmas.
The story begins fourteen years ago with the deaths of Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) parents. Alone and sad on Christmas Eve, his best friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) rally around him, beginning a December 24th tradition involving karaoke, Chinese food, playing the giant piano at FAO Schwartz and, because this is a Seth Rogen movie, lots of drinking and drugs.
Isaac and Chris are the only family Ethan has, but as the years pass the guys grow apart. Today Isaac is a lawyer with a wife (Jillian Bell) and a baby on the way. Chris is a superstar athlete while Ethan is still struggling. Recently dumped by his girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan) he picks up catering gigs (dressed as an Elf) as he tries to get gigs for his band. The guys plan one last Christmas Eve together and when they score tickets for the best party in NYC, the Nutcracker Ball, the night is poised to become one for the ages.
“The Night Before” is profane and probably sacrilegious but it’s also the funniest and in its own foul-mouthed way, sweetest Christmas movie of recent memory. It’s a fairy tale of sorts that borrows heavily from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” but forges its own path. It believes in all the usual Christmas clichés, but updates them with outrageous antics that some will find hilarious while others may find extreme. Either way, the one thing that is not subjective is the spirit of kindness that manages to peak through, past the swearing babies and drunken, brawling Santas.
The three leads are likeable, funny and keep things flowing nicely but it is Michael Shannon in an extended cameo as a drug dealer whose weed provides “surprisingly accurate visions of the future” who steals the show. Surreal and slightly menacing, he’s Clarence Odbody for a new generation.
“The Night Before” could become a beloved Christmas classic… if Justin Trudeau finally makes marijuana legal in Canada. It’s a stoner comedy that is nuttier than Grandma’s fruitcake but just as sweet.