Movie Review: “The Night Before”

Night

The raunchy, dopey holiday farce “The Night Before” hits you “like a wrecking a ball,” to steal a lyric from one of its better cameos.

A “Pineapple Express” flavored romp through substance abuse and the sacrireligous, it hoots off the screen, from its rhymed Tracy Morgan-narrated “Night Before Christmas” knockoff narration to its tour of New York city landmarks, bars, Catholic churches, karaoke clubs and one epic Christmas Eve party.

And if it runs out of gas and turns all sentimental-as-if-by-formula in the third act, that’s only because the screenwriting team of Levine, Goldberg, Shaffir and a goyim run completely out of Christmas cliches they can run up the Christmas tree and mock.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Ethan, whose high school pals Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been true blue, keeping him company for each of the fourteen Christmases since his parents died in a car wreck.

But that’s coming to an end. Isaac’s become a lawyer, and is about to be a dad (Jillian Bell is Betsy, his pregnant wife). Chris is a late-blooming NFL star, marketing himself to death on social media, clinging to a career with steroids.

And Ethan is just a failed musician, the guy who let Ms. Right (Lizzy Kaplan) get away, in his 30s and still doing odd gigs like dressing as an elf waiter for holiday parties.

But that’s where he finds the magic tickets. It’s a super secret, super-hip and super-swank party called “The Nutcracker’s Ball.” And now, finally, on their last night together as a Christmas Eve trio, the boys can get in.

They start at Rockefeller Plaza, do the “Big” piano dance at F.A.O. Schwartz, hit the karaoke and…detour. Chris, squiring them around in a Red Bull promotional Hummer limo, needs to score some weed for this quarterback they’re trying to impress.

And that’s when we first meet Mr. Green. Michael Shannon could very well pull an Oscar nomination out of his ruthless mortgage broker turn in “99 Homes.” His stoned, smoke-shrouded philosopher-dealer Mr. Green could seal the deal.

He was their high school hook-up, and he’s nostalgic when he sees the lads again.

“You’re all my children.”

It’s a comic marvel of precision, wit, warmth and menace. Shannon just kills it, and he steals the movie, turning up time and again, each visit more hilarious than the last.

Swiping a picture with Rogen playing a dad-to-be on one last coke/pot/pills/’shrooms bender takes some doing. The cameos (Miley C., James Franco) are fall-on-the-floor riffs on their public personas.

Mindy Kaling turns up, and Randall Park (the dopey dictator of North Korea in “The Interview”).

The situations — a cell phone mix up, sexting included, hallucinations, a brawl with street Santas — are nothing special. And the story arc, how everybody needs to grow up, is tedious.

But the players are game and flat out bring it. Rogen has the Zach Galifianakis role in this “Hangover,” Gordon-Levitt gives his thinly-drawn character some heart and sings, with gusto. And Mackie, in his third film in two weeks (“Shelter,””Love the Coopers”), has never been funnier — riffing and ripping videos for Youtube uploads, posing for every selfie with every fan who comes along, dancing, singing a little Run-DMC.

It’s not “The Interview,” but there’s daring in sending a Jew into Christmas Mass, and having him throw up (in a Star of David sweater) and yell “We didn’t kill Jesus!” It’s not “Pineapple Express” or “This the the End,” because, well, hell, where’s Danny McBride?

But if the spirit of the season is making you sick to your stomach, “The Night Before”, scruffy and uneven as it is, might be the perfect purge.

 

2half-star6
MPAA Rating: R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity

Cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Lizzy Kaplan, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Mindy Kaling
Credits: Directed by Jonathan Levine, script by Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg. A Sony release.

Running time: 1:41

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2 Responses to Movie Review: “The Night Before”

  1. Schoe says:

    This is another racist film where fat ugly Seth Rogen plays an explicitly Jewish character, while good-looking Jewish actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lizzy Caplan, this time) play non-Jews. As a matter of fact, despite being the son of two Jewish parents, Gordon-Levitt has never explicitly played his own ethnicity once in his entire 30 years of acting. Is there a problem, Joey?

    This is the same racist trick Rogen pulls every time. He always casts himself as an explicit Jewish character opposite non-Jewish characters played by good-looking Jews (Paul Rudd, James Franco, Dave Franco, Zac Efron, Halston Sage, etc.).

    And this new film is from the same studio, S.S.ony, that released last year’s Fury, about fighting Nazis during WWII. Fury starred no less than four Jews (Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, and Shia LaBeouf), yet none of the characters were Jewish and Jews and the Holocaust were never mentioned. Gee, maybe they should have cast Seth Rogen as a “funny” Jewish soldier who died early on in the film.

    Actors of fully Jewish background: Logan Lerman, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julian Morris, Adam Brody, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Gabriel Macht, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lisa Kudrow, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Debra Messing, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Margarita Levieva, Elizabeth Berkley, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Corey Stoll, Mia Kirshner, Alden Ehrenreich, Eric Balfour, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.

    Andrew Garfield and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are Jewish, too (though I don’t know if both of their parents are).

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix, Emmy Rossum, Rashida Jones, Jennifer Connelly, Sofia Black D’Elia, Nora Arnezeder, Goldie Hawn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Peet, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Barnes, Patricia Arquette, Kyra Sedgwick, Dave Annable, Ryan Potter.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, Nicola Peltz, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Winona Ryder, Michael Douglas, Ben Foster, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz, Paul Newman.

    Oh, and Ansel Elgort’s father is Jewish, though I don’t know how Ansel was raised. Robert Downey, Jr. and Sean Penn were also born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Armie Hammer and Chris Pine are part Jewish.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism: Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

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