MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy/ Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Lorraine Toussaint, Jason Mantzoukas, Ilana Glazer, Tracy Morgan, Randall Park/Runtime: 101 minutes
I feel it is only appropriate to start this review by saying that if you really truly take a peek at the filmography of Jonathan Levine, you will quickly notice that there is fairly little to any consistency in regards to making a certain kind of genre of film more than any other. This is because since his feature debut of the little-seen slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, he truly hasn’t made a similar film since. Indeed it really truly does seem like he is constantly evolving his director knowledge by taking on such projects as the fantastic cancer dramedy 50/50 or the zombie rom-com Warm Bodies.
Yet as diverse and eclectic as his filmography is however we actually begin to see a common thread. Indeed, what really ties all of Levine’s work together if you begin to look for a thread that runs through them all is his tremendous sense of tone or rather knowing exactly when to make you laugh and when to make you feel. Indeed it is with much happiness that I can confirm that this is a quality that the filmmaker blissfully once again brings to the film The Night Before. Indeed having seen it, I can safely say that not only does this stand as one of the funniest movies of 2015, but at its core it is also a film which carries a truly heartfelt and truthful stance on not only just how friendships must evolve in the face of time, and maturity, but also in regards to the inevitability of moving forward into new and exciting stages or moments in one’s life no matter how hard or scary they may at first seem to be.
The plot is as follows: wearing a deep appreciation for Martin Scorsese’s After Hours on its sleeve, The Night Before is almost entirely set over the course of one night or to be more specific Christmas Eve as we follow a group of three men as they have one final holiday hurrah together. This is because, for years, 2 of the men, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have always spent Christmas Eve with their best friend and the 3rd member of the trio, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) since Ethan’s parents were killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve when he was just a kid. However now that they have become full-blown adults, their diverging lives, along with other reasons, have left them with the heavy task of celebrating one last time. Of course it should go without saying, but they’re all set up to make it an epic night as they have finally acquired tickets to an extremely exclusive and top-secret party they’ve wanted to attend for years. Yet we soon see there are many obstacles put in their way. This is because in true blue Christmas tradition they must face the “ghosts” of their pasts, the present, and the future in order to figure out not only just who they’ve been as people, but also who they’re meant to be as well.
Now it really is no closely-guarded secret that high-concept holiday comedies really truly are a dime a dozen these days. Yet what truly sets The Night Before apart is a real and genuine commitment to strong character development as well as strong arcs for the leads as well as we see that Ethan is a lonely, lazy mess who miraculously sees an opportunity to repair one of his biggest mistakes when he learns that his dejected ex-girlfriend Diana is heading to the same party as him and the guys, Chris is an NFL player who has been getting his career off the ground with the help of steroids who finally finds a special chance to get in good with the star of his team by scoring him some pot, and Isaac is on the verge of becoming a father for the first time only to find himself given full license to have a crazy night by his wife right down to her even gifting him a box full of illegal drugs. Indeed this is a film which manages to live by feeding into these individual plots & then topping them all off with a hefty dose of both madcap weirdness, but also heart and holiday spirit as well. Thus by the end of the film you’re not only exhausted from laughing so much at the mayhem these guys get into, but you also feel a wonderful satisfaction in seeing the complete nature of the narrative and how each of these guys and their individual stories plays out.
Now the script, written by Jonathan Levine, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, may do a truly fantastic job of deftly blending together a fun, ridiculous Christmas adventure alongside real adult issues, but this is a concept which truly excels due to the fact that the finished film also has a cast made up of some of the funniest people on the planet. Indeed it’s a true Christmas miracle that all of the leads are amazing in their own right, with Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all managing to possess outstanding chemistry in their scenes where they are all together, but also in the moments where they are on their own arcs in the film. Yet due to the nature of the story, the door really is left open for our trio to encounter all kinds of strange and interesting characters along their journey. Suffice it to say that this is a setup that the film takes full, and complete advantage of. Indeed while it would be doing the movie a disservice to start listing them all here, as part of the fun is seeing these actors randomly pop up in the middle of a scene, I feel it really is a safe bet to say that there isn’t a single one that fails to impress no matter how much or how little screen time they are given.
Yet as phenomenal as the entire cast is, however, there is one actor in particular who deserves special accolade and that is Mr. Michael Shannon. Indeed for those who don’t know Shannon is an actor who is best known for either a disturbingly penetrative stare or the fact that he has spent years as a powerful force in the dramatic world. Yet I feel it should go without saying, but The Night Before has him putting on one of his funniest performances in years as a rather eccentric, if not downright kooky pot dealer named Mr. Green. Indeed Shannon does an absolutely fantastic job of utilizing his classic intensity and putting all of the characters around him entirely on edge to great comic effect, yet then managing to round it out with a weirdo personality that is liable to say just about anything at any given moment. Indeed Shannon is a joy whenever he shows up in anything and here he manages to add so much to an already absolutely wonderful film and is a true treat to watch.
All in all The Night Before really truly at the end of the day is a character-driven comedy that’s as dramatically satisfying as it is hilariously funny, all while doing a fantastic job of fully capturing the spirit of this most magical season of the year. Indeed it should go without saying, but in all honesty I would most definitely make it an integral part of your holiday agenda to not only make this film part of your holidays this year, but for years to come as well. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Night Before “2015” a 3.5 out of 5.