Three thirtysomething friends — aimless Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), father-to-be Isaac (Seth Rogen) and NFL star Chris (Anthony Mackie) — head off for one last big Christmas night out to track down the world’s greatest yuletide bash: The Nutcracka Ball.
Like a rites of passage Olympian, Seth Rogen seems to come of age every four years. 2015’s version is The Night Before, a likeable if hardly groundbreaking Christmas comedy that occupies a similar space to Bill Murray’s Scrooged, mixing grown up laughs with a hefty dose of seasonal spirit.
The Night Before sweetly skewers the difficulty in maintaining adult friendships.
As three unwise men hit the town to replay an annual but dying ritual, it’s a frenetic, hit-and-miss rag-bag of drug jokes, bro-talk, Die Hard references and star cameos (hello Miley Cyrus!) all played out in the worst Christmas knitwear. The leads have an easy chemistry — Gordon-Levitt is the emotional centre, pining after lost love Lizzie Caplan, Mackie registers as a social media savvy football star — but this is Rogen’s movie. His night is one bad ‘shroom-coke trip, hilariously ranting about his unborn kid or puking in a church. You may have seen this shtick before, but Rogen is the Daniel Day-Lewis of stoner dudes.
It is inclusive too. When Isaac is mistakenly sent a dick pic, he reacts with an amused curiosity rather than the standard issue homophobia of US comedies. The women are funny (especially Jillian Bell as Rogen’s wife) rather than nagging and Michael Shannon’s drug dealer gives a different flavour to the madcap antics. The Night Before sweetly skewers the difficulty in maintaining adulthood friendships, persuasively arguing the families we choose are as important as the ones foisted upon us. Even if they insist on playing Kanye covers on the piano from Big.
It doesn’t all land, but The Night Before is largely a salty, sweet jingle ball.