Why Did The World Forget All About ‘The Night Before’?
These days, vast swaths of the population seem to gobble up Christmas-related movie content as indiscriminately as plastic hippos do marbles. Seemingly gone are the days of endlessly rewatchable cinematic holiday classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and, at the risk of relitigating a dumb internet debate, Die Hard.
So many Christmas movies these days seem to be made quickly and inexpensively, usually for streaming and cable TV. Just recently, there was Lindsay Lohan’s Falling For Christmas, about a magical yuletide brain injury, and Christmas in Paradise, in which Kelsey Grammer spends the holidays in the Caribbean along with Billy Ray Cyrus for some reason. And maybe just take a brief moment to spare a thought for the poor trailer editor who was tasked with trying to make this monstrosity look like an appealing way to spend an hour and 28 minutes of your life.
Back in 2015, though, we got a mainstream theatrical Christmas movie featuring beloved movie stars and boasting a supporting cast of equally-beloved comedy greats, which … everyone seems to have totally forgotten all about. We’re talking about The Night Before – as in the R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not the ‘80s teen movie where Keanu Reeves sells Aunt Becky into sex slavery on prom night.
Not unlike Eyes Wide Shut, The Night Before is all about trying to get into an exclusive holiday party for rich weirdos. In this case, it’s the “Nutcracker Ball,” a highly-secretive gathering held every Christmas Eve. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, a 30-something Joseph Gordon-Levitt-type guy who, following the death of his parents years earlier, maintains a tradition of spending Christmas Eve with his buddies (Rogen and Mackie), mostly getting super-hammered in karaoke bars, just like Baby Jesus would have wanted.
In addition to the film’s central trio – which, again, is comprised of legit movie stars, including a friggin’ Avenger – the supporting roles are stacked with comedic heavy hitters. It’s narrated by Tracy Morgan (who is later revealed to be Santa himself), Gordon-Levitt’s ex-girlfriend, who he’s attempting to win back, is played by Lizzy Caplan, her put-upon friend is Mindy Kaling, and Jillian Bell steals nearly every scene she’s in as Rogen’s pregnant wife, who gifts him with a boxful of drugs so he can have one final night of festive debauchery with his friends.
Plus, Ilana Glazer shows up as a weed-stealing, self-described “Grinch,” Jason Mantzoukas is a drunken Santa Claus/third-grade teacher, and the internet’s boyfriend/star of The Rehearsal (not to mention Seth Rogen’s old high school improv teammate) Nathan Fielder plays an appropriately awkward limo driver in a rare screen appearance.
The studio even used Fielder’s Nathan For You persona to help sell the movie; Sony released a six-minute promotional video of Fielder grilling his co-stars with “uncomfortable” questions, such as how often they have sex, how much they were each paid, and why his part in the finished film ended up being so small.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t single out the performance given by acclaimed actor Michael Shannon as a mysterious, possibly magical, old-school drug dealer – and holy crap, he’s funny in this movie, playing the part of “Mr. Green” as if he were the love child of Steven Wright and a highly-medicated Christopher Walken.
Part of what’s so arguably admirable about The Night Before is that, despite its festive setting and occasionally schmaltzy premise, the humor is unrelentingly dark at times; this is a Christmas movie where Seth Rogen graphically vomits at a Catholic Midnight Mass, nosebleeds into a friend’s cocktail after hastily doing coke in a filthy bathroom, and angrily curses out his unborn child in a drug-fueled iPhone video. This may have turned off the Hallmark crowd, in retrospect, but you’d think would have still appealed to its target audience. And really, is any of that any more upsetting than, say, suffering from a debilitating form of amnesia over the holidays?
Despite the fact that it had so much going for it, The Night Before was only a modest success at the box office and has seemingly retained little-to-no holiday movie relevance, ultimately disappearing into the cultural ether as if it were a common Rob Schneider project. And sure, it’s not a perfect movie; there are some sloppy storytelling problems and cloying character moments, and much of the movie seems extremely dated even now, just seven years later.
Like how a large portion of the movie involves struggling to buy weed from a sketchy dude in a car rather than, say, walking into a corner dispensary. Or how about the scene where the guys go full Big on a giant toy store piano – and Seth Rogen playing a Kanye song while wearing a Star of David sweater hits a bit different now.
Also, going over a little bit differently in a 2022 context, a major subplot involves receiving multiple dick pics from a cellphone belonging to a guy named James, who turns out to be James Franco as himself. Although, to be honest, everybody making this movie in 2015 should have already known that this was a goddamn terrible idea.
Still, The Night Before doesn’t deserve to fall into Christmas Movie Hell, along with Deck the Halls, Christmas with the Kranks, and (shudder) Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.
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