A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas proved that stoners could celebrate the holidays too, and The Night Before seeks to capture some of that same yuletide magic, chronicling the series of misadventures that ensue when three longtime friends engage in their annual ritual of drinking and partying on Christmas Eve. With a trio of funny and talented actors, and a screenplay co-written by Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express), what could go wrong?
Fresh from a bad breakup, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) can’t wait to get together with his boys and party the night away. With Isaac (Seth Rogen) on the brink of fatherhood and Chris (Anthony Mackie) turning into a social media sensation, there’s never enough time for them to reconnect, so everyone expects this year’s romp to be the last. So they’re going out in style, with a box full of drugs that Isaac’s wife purchased on Craigslist, and three tickets to the most exclusive party in the city.
But beneath the veneer of cocaine, alcohol and Christmas cheer, each of the guys are dealing with internal conflicts that threaten to derail the evening: Ethan still can’t get over Diana (Lizzy Caplan), Isaac is terrified he’ll be a bad father, and Chris is struggling with his newfound fame as a football star, while also in denial about his methodology. All of these elements are worth exploring, but The Night Before never goes beyond the surface with any of its characters, and scenes where these issues begin to boil over don’t resonate because the audience isn’t invested.
With his past work, writer/director Jonathan Levine has shown a deftness for balancing broad comedy with more intimate, human moments. On paper, The Night Before seemed destined for success by using that same formula, but the execution here is sorely lacking. Most of the jokes – the lion’s share of which are about drugs, sex, or both – feel incredibly lazy, and the film’s attempts at conveying genuine emotion feel phony and contrived.
That’s not to say The Night Before doesn’t have some great laughs, because it does. There’s a hilarious text message exchange when Isaac swaps phones with a friend at the bar, and a brilliant recurring cameo from a “serious” actor who seems to be having a blast playing completely against type. But these flashes of greatness come all too briefly, and aren’t nearly enough to elevate this film beyond its “lowest common denominator” brand of humor.