The Night Before
dir Jonathan Levine
scr Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg
prd Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver
with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling, Aaron Hill, Nathan Fielder, Tracy Morgan, James Franco, Miley Cyrus
release US 20.Nov.15, UK 3.Dec.15
15/US Columbia 1h41
The Night Before
Christmas karaoke kings: Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie

caplan shannon kaling
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Night Before There's no real reason why a stoner bromance can't also be a Christmas movie, although this holiday comedy shows that heartwarming sentiment easily drowns out gross-out antics. It's a fairly simple premise, packed with effortless charm, fearless physicality and lots of jokes about drugs and genitalia. But it manages to also weave in some festive magic, including a bit of commentary about the nature of growing up and how friends are our family, even when we forget that.

After his parents died suddenly, Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) turned to his best pals Isaac and Chris (Rogen and Mackie) to help him get through the holidays. Years later, they're having their last Christmas Eve together before Isaac's wife (Bell) gives birth to their first child and Chris' pro-football career takes off. As they enjoy their traditional festive sweaters, karaoke and Chinese food, the three buddies are gearing up to finally attend a top-secret Christmas party. This involves having three fateful encounters with a mythical drug dealer (Shannon), plus an entanglement with Ethan's ex Diana (Caplan).

The strong cast makes the most of the hilarious gags peppered throughout the film, carefully placed amid vulgar jokes that generally fall flat. A touch of magical realism never quite gains any traction, but at least the sentimentality is expertly undermined. And the wilfully nutty narration from Morgan adds some wry comedy value, as do amusing cameos from Franco and Cyrus that deliberately wear out their welcome. But the plot and characters are hardly a stretch for anyone.

Gordon-Levitt coasts along, breezily anchoring the central role as a slacker who needs to take control of his life. Rogen does his usual panicky goofball turn as a guy having one last drug-fuelled night out before he has to settle down and become a father. And Mackie hints at some reflective depth in his rather simplistic role as a cheating athlete who enjoys the trappings of fame.

Oddly, despite all of the rude humour, the film feels gentle and sweet, only rarely revving up to full-speed. Thankfully, the barrage of holiday movie cliches and stoner comedy silliness is continually entertaining. There's also a surprisingly knowing undercurrent about facing life's challenges head-on. Plus some astute commentary on the relentless commercialisation in every aspect of American culture. And it's the kind of movie that certain audiences will adopt as their very own Christmas classic.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, sexuality 20.Nov.15

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