Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anthony Mackie, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling, Tracy Morgan
What an ugly Christmas sweater of a movie! It’s both hideous and hilarious – an endearing model of bad taste and charm combined. Sure the filmmakers are stitching everything they can find into this one! They refer to Christmas classics and other buddy flicks, rewrapping it all in a tacky stoner film meant to create a holiday high.
The people here aren’t terribly interesting. The plot is scattershot, and the theme is downright shallow. But as Roger Ebert said, I laughed. I didn’t feel good about myself, but I laughed.
Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, a young man who lost his parents on Christmas Eve to a drunk driver. In order to heal their buddy of his holiday scars, Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) take Ethan out every Christmas Eve. Their night includes drinking, drugs, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller, bad karaoke at a bar, Chinese food, and dancing on the piano at FAO Schwartz.
They’ve been doing this for 14 years now, so Isaac and Chris have told Ethan it’s time to move on. Beside Isaac being Jewish – which makes celebrating Christmas a little weird – he’s married and got a baby on the way. Chris has become a famous football player.
However, this year, these three friends are going out in style. Decades ago, they heard of a phenomenal annual Christmas Eve party called the Nutcracker Ball. It’s been said that people’s lives change at this party. Gordon-Levitt has fortuitously snagged three invitations. As long as they can score some pot, this party will go well with their ugly sweaters, Chris’s Red Bull limo (he’s into product placement), and Isaac’s panic at becoming a father.
The Night Before liberally cadges from other holiday fare like Rudolph, Home Alone, The Grinch, It’s a Wonderful Life, and even the rave flick Go. Referencing A Christmas Carol and using Michael Shannon provides the most brilliant moments. And though the film never quite completely ties Dickens to this new marijuana quest, I’m not going to spoil the laughs, except to say that Shannon is hilarious.
There are also other cameos that provide some solid giggles, including a strange and silly bi-curious moment or two. There are also some blasphemy and sacrilege, both Jewish and Christian.
These are the gags that work. Other jokes don’t in a film that throws everything under the tree to see what we’ll find delightful. Rogen’s overly drugged character – which he’s now played in four films – needs to be retired. Mackie and Gordon-Levitt are lovely actors, but they aren’t really given enough personality. Furthermore, a love story and the fear of fatherhood thread barely hang with the rest of the plot. Nothing culminates. Everything feels like the filmmakers took an already tacky sweater and tacked on few more mismatched baubles.
So, it isn’t a Christmas classic. Yet, when it walks through the door, you might smile. You might even laugh. It won’t make your holiday, but it won’t ruin it either.