’Twas “The Night Before” Christmas movie and all through the film all the creatures were stirring, one is a louse. The crude jokes were all stacked up with care in hopes that an audience would soon be there.
And, they should be.
This holiday film about three best buddies looking for one last major Christmas Eve bash manages to be crass, rude and foul-mouthed while being very sweet.
It has been the tradition of Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) to spend the night before Christmas doing geeky things like wearing bad holiday sweaters, going to the FAO Schwarz toy store to play the giant keyboard and visit Rockefeller Center to see the massive Christmas tree.
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This annual event started the year Ethan’s parents were killed. Isaac and Chris just wanted to help their friend deal with the pain. It’s been over a decade and the guys have decided this will be their last big Christmas Eve night. Life is getting in the way as Isaac is about to become a father and Chris has become a sports celebrity.
They get to end the tradition on a bang when Ethan manages to get three tickets to a super secret holiday ball.
“The Night Before” is like getting what is supposed to be a gag gift from a Secret Santa and finding out it’s something you really like. The film looks like it’s just going to be one raunchy joke after another. And, there is plenty of material that tests the limit of good taste: vomiting in church, detailed photos and discussions of genitalia, excessive drug use and an infant who talks like a blue comic.
But director/writer Jonathan Levine was smart enough to intersperse those moments with a story about the importance of friendship, the uncertainties of parenthood and fear of relationships. These elements work because Gordon-Levitt can handle the emotional highs and lows of the character, while Mackie is equally comfortable as both a sports superstar and momma’s boy.
Rogen’s left to handle the role usually played by Will Ferrell. He’s an average husband and pending father who goes a little wild because of some non-prescription drugs. Unlike Ferrell, Rogen takes the drug-crazed moments to a funny level but pulls back just before milking the joke dry.
“The Night Before” is a movie that asks the viewer to go on a wild and crazy journey. Such a trek is enjoyable only if there’s reason to root for those on the quest. Between the solid writing of Levine and the likable performances by the three amigos, it’s easy to commit to tripping along with “The Night Before.”
Adding to the fun is Ilana Glazer, whose character hates Christmas but offers the kind of wise holiday advice that usually comes with a gift of frankincense or myrrh.
The best supporting work comes from Michael Shannon as the mysterious drug dealer, Mr. Green. He becomes the spiritual guide for the three friends as their partying turns into a night of self-discovery. It’s a very different role from the tough guy parts Shannon normally plays, but he handles the character with ease.
Clovis High School graduate Aaron Hill has a small role in the “The Night Before.” He plays Tommy Owens, the starting quarterback for a professional football team in New York, who is one of the attendees at the Nutcracker Ball.,Most recently, Hill appeared in the TV movies “Reluctant Nanny” and “A Perfect Christmas List.” His other credits include “Twisted,” “Greek,” “NCIS,” “Castle,” “Supernatural” and “Baby Daddy.”
There are a couple of cameos that are a lot of fun. Just like a Christmas gift, it will be more enjoyable if you find out the surprises on your own.
It all comes together to make “The Night Before” a fun hybrid of a raunchy buddy comedy and a sweet holiday movie. This is a hard combination to blend but Levine pulls it off by keeping a nice balance between the naughty and nice.