The 400-Word-Review: The Night Before
By Sean Collier
November 24, 2015
A small galaxy of comedy talent revolves around the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who have been creating smart-if-juvenile laughs on the big screen for eight years at this point (dating back to 2007’s Superbad). The pair must be close; all of their collaborations center on the emotional arc of male friendships. Neighbors, This is the End, 50/50, Pineapple Express, even The Interview: All and more investigate how a character played by Rogen interacts with his buddies.
So it should come as no surprise that The Night Before, the latest from the duo — Goldberg is one of four credited writers, both Goldberg and Rogen are producers and Rogen stars, while Jonathan Levine directs — is just more male bonding. But it’s a Christmas movie this time, so that’s something, right?
Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Isaac (Rogen) stepped in 14 years ago to give their buddy Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a decent Christmas after his parents were killed in a car accident. In 2015, though, Isaac has a baby on the way and Chris is an NFL star, and they’ve outgrown the tradition of recreating that original holiday every December 24th; Ethan, however, has a bad case of arrested development — which every movie mentioned to this point is about, in one way or another — and isn’t ready to let go of the comforts of youth.
It was wise to cast Mackie and Gordon-Levitt, two incredibly gifted actors; they give The Night Before heft it would’ve otherwise lacked. And some emotional impact was definitely needed, as the laughs here are not up to snuff; there are a handful of fine setups and effective one-liners, but not at the pace we’re accustomed to by this team. The Night Before lacks the inventiveness of This is the End, the narrative drive of Pineapple Express and the batting average of Neighbors — all without distinguishing itself in any new way.
Once again, Rogen and Goldberg — who are certainly charming, but can no longer survive on charm alone — have no idea what to do with female characters, this time squandering Lizzy Caplan’s talents by casting her as Ethan’s exasperated ex. Supporting turns from Mindy Kaling, Ilana Glazer, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell and Michael Shannon manage to push the film from bad to acceptable. But The Night Before won’t challenge the Christmas classics for a spot under the tree.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark