The Movie Date is a feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses THE NIGHT BEFORE, directed by Jonathan Levine.
Since the trailers paint it as a raunchy, irresponsible, male-skewing comedy, I was surprised when Lucy was eager to kick off the holidays with The Night Before. But we were drawn in by its starring trio of Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie, plus Mindy Kaling, Lizzy Caplan, and Michael Shannon in supporting roles. And in spite of the usual guy-comedy gross-out humor and sex jokes, we both found this to be a charming, sincere, even thoughtful fable of Christmas in New York.
After a tragedy years earlier left Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) an orphan during the holidays, his high-school buddies Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) have vowed to spend Christmas Eve with him every year. Their annual New York ritual includes Chinese food, hip hop karaoke, the Rockefeller Center tree, and many cocktails. For years they’ve heard about the Nutcracker Ball, a secret, underground, invitation-only rave promising outrageous thrills, but can never get in. This year, while working as an elf-dressed servant, Ethan comes across three sparkling red tickets to the Ball, and he knows this Christmas Eve will be the boys’ best ever. Little does he know that Isaac and Chris have decided it should also be their last, with life pulling them in different directions. But whatever happens, with so much at stake, this will be a night (before) to remember.
Rather than just being a decadent quest for illicit thrills (a la the similar A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), this film strives to be meaningful and compelling. It actually achieves this by touching on some of the key elements of the holiday season: friendship, family, and tradition. Now a pro athlete, Chris is eager to placate his famous sporto buddies with a gift of weed and his fans through constant social media posts. Isaac is about to become a dad, and tries to escape his fears of poor fathering by working through a box of drugs given by his wife. And the long-solo Ethan would love to reconnect with former girlfriend Diana (Caplan), if not for his mortal fear of meeting her parents.
The chemistry between the three leads is wonderful, and the supporting cast does a great job: Kaling is acerbic and suspicious as Diana’s BFF, and Shannon is excellent as a mysterious drug dealer who embodies all three of Dickens’ ghosts. A few celebrity cameos add a dose of excitement to the film’s third act. The Night Before creates a wonderful holiday mood with sparkling, wintry Manhattan as its backdrop, while Isaac, who is Jewish, offers a wry outsider’s perspective to the more devout holiday traditions. It’s a sprawling, witty, and insightful holiday film that will leave your heart warmed and sides aching.