Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (played by Anthony Mackie, who does expectedly play the token black guy) have a tradition of celebrating Christmas together ever since Ethan lost his parents at age 19, but the boys feel the tradition is starting to beat a dead horse now that they’re 33 and starting to settle. Their celebration trades in the usual holiday dinner for Chinese food, scavenging for open bars in NYC and getting shitfaced. Rogen and Gordon-Levitt have chemistry carried over from 50/50 and Mackie joins the best way he can in the group’s robust karaoke rendition of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” or their totally bro-ish performance of Kanye West’s “Runaway” using FAO Schwartz’s iconic floor piano made popular by Big. Each actor delivers their own authentic, comedic performances that are bolstered by a slew of exciting guests, including Ilana Glazer (Broad City), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Jason Jones (The Daily Show), and my favorite celebrity ever Nathan Fielder (Nathan for You), whose off-kilter delivery had me laughing the hardest. Also especially memorable is Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire), whose performance as a deadpan, crusty drug dealer whose weed literally transports customers through time and space shines with Shannon’s menacing but misunderstood demeanor.
Despite the immoral self-indulgence and fun performances, The Night Before does fall flat on half of it’s jokes as Rogen and his crew seem to be giving out their last few breaths. An especially dry scene where Rogen, high out of his mind, receives a mysterious onslaught of dick pics from a “James” on his phone that he can’t help but find impressive felt like a fight against the homophobia in typical bro movies but ends up being pretty tasteless and still reminiscent of a 13-year-old boy’s writing. Jonathan Levine, known for his wondrous emotional pulls in comedy films, does bring The Night Before back around for a saccharine ending that reminds us what the holidays are all about: being brought together with family. The boys share an everlasting hug and Gordon-Levitt makes a few speeches that reminded me how blindingly charming he is for a typical holiday movie ending to an otherwise atypical holiday movie.
As if being quietly tucked away into the shelf with all the other Christmas stories, The Night Before’s three kings of the Orient settle into their roles of fathers, husbands, and sons. It’s the usual Rogen film that dares to juxtapose the naughty with the nice, like the line “swallow like a girl would” echoed in a church, but doesn’t make do with that boldness. Though not particularly memorable, The Night Before is a solid effort that nails the joke half the time and starkly reminds us that we can’t all be kids forever the other half. Make of that what you will, Mr. Rogen.