At this point Seth Rogen is a known commodity. Sure, he’s branching out into Oscar territory (he’s great in Steve Jobs) but almost annually he seems to return to his comedic well. And for me, that well is by no means dry. Further proof of that is his new Christmas romp The Night Before – which combines the outrageous raunchiness of This is the End with the sweetness of The Family Stone.
Rogen’s comedy just works. His timing is great and as he explores new actors to bounce that familiar crunchy laugh off he keeps things fresh. The Night Before traffics in a genre that is familiar and warm but combine that with his perspective and you have one of the funniest yuletide adventures since Elf – only with way more dick jokes.
Here Rogen plays Isaac – a lawyer whose about to become a father with his wife Betsy (the hilarious Jillian Bell.) This Christmas season is also special for another reason, Isaac and his two best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) are spending their last Christmas Eve together. The tradition was started 14-years earlier when Ethan’s parents were killed by a drunk driver. Not wanting to leave their friend to his own devices, Chris and Isaac took him out to get his mind off things – thus a tradition was born.
As their sent out the door for their final night, Betsy stops Isaac to thank him for being a great husband through her pregnancy. She bestows upon him a magic box of drugs – every drug that you could basically conceive of. It’s his reward she says, now go have a good time.
And boy do they. You see, for the past 14-years Ethan has been looking for a way to get into the Nutcracker Ball – the most exclusive party in Manhattan. This year while working as a coat check Elf at a wealthy party he stumbles on 3-tickets with simple instructions – call the number at 10 PM for instructions on how/where to go. A Christmas miracle!
What ensues is a wild night comedy that reminded me often of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. All the boys are carrying plenty of baggage into their early-30’s and as they descend deeper into the night it slowly comes to light. Isaac has a baby on the way that in his drug-induced stupor he admits to resent. Chris is at the tail end of his NFL career and has found a magic elixir that has elevated his celebrity and his bank account. That elixir is called steroids. We all know what Ethan carries with him.
That may sound heavy and at times it can be but the raucous joy of this movie is the “where the hell will they go next” nature of their journey. Michael Shannon – in all his intense, steely eyed glory – makes an amazing cameo as “Mr. Green” the guys high school weed dealer who they call throughout the night. Once Isaac starts trippin’ hard on mushrooms he tries to balance it out with cocaine sending him into a sweat-laced, fast talking tirade that lasts nearly the entire second half of the movie. Even Tracy Morgan shows up as Santa the narrator. This movie has too many laughs to mention them all.
And that’s what I admire most about Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg. At the end of the day when they decide to make another midsize movie their intent is always clear. They want to make people laugh – and they do. The Night Before is above all funny but it’s also a great Christmas movie. Sure it’s familiar and probably recycles a lot from past films but it has more than enough new elements to keep if fresh.
Sometimes at Christmas we don’t want to watch a bunch of people bickering at each other under one roof for an hour and a half. Sometimes we just need a stoned Seth Rogen in a giant Star of David sweater screaming like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and playing Runaway by Kanye West on the piano from BIG with his two buddies.