“We did not kill Jesus! We did not kill Jesus!” yells Isaac as he runs out of a church.
Christmas comedies are hard to come by lately, and good Christmas comedies are even harder to come by (especially in the last couple of decades). It’s been four years since the last good new Christmas film I saw graced cinema screens (A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas). It’s also been four years since Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen teamed up for Jonathan Levine’s critically and financially successful cancer dramedy 50/50. 2015 would see these core elements crossing paths as Gordon-Levitt and Rogen would reteam together for Levine’s terrific Christmas dramedy The Night Before. I recently had a chance to see The Night Before on the big screen, and it was a hilariously enjoyable and unexpectedly moving experience.
2015’s The Night Before follows a trio of longtime friends who go on one last annual Christmas reunion (one is about to become a father, one has become a famous athlete, and one hasn’t quite gotten over the loss of his parents around Christmas time 14 years earlier). Levine gathered together an excellent ensemble that included Gordon-Levitt (as Ethan Miller), Rogen (as Isaac Greenberg), Anthony Mackie (as Chris Roberts), Michael Shannon (as Mr. Green), Lizzy Caplan (as Diane), Mindy Kaling (as Sarah), Jillian Bell (as Betsy Greenberg), Ilana Glazer (as Rebecca Grinch), Nathan Fielder (as Joshua), Lorraine Toussaint (as Mrs. Roberts), Tracy Morgan (as the Narrator), Jason Mantzoukas and Jason Jones (as the bad Santas), and cameos from James Franco and Miley Cyrus. The trio of leads give strong performances; Gordon-Levitt as a man-child who’s unable to commit to a long-term relationship with his girlfriend and still coping with the death of his parents 14 years earlier, Rogen as a soon-to-be father who’s been in denial about his insecurities regarding the coming birth and takes a plethora of drugs on Christmas Eve that have an unusual effect on him, and Mackie as a recently-famous athlete who’s been hiding the fact that he’s been using steroids to have the incredible season he’s been having. Shannon steals every scene he’s in as the guys’ drug dealer (who they’ve known since they were in high school).
Levine stages some incredible set pieces (both music and action-related; the montage that starts off with the trio at FAO Schwarz and the giant keyboard is one of my favorites). The screenplay by Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Evan Goldberg explores the evolution of adult friendships and the work that goes into maintaining them. There are also references to such films as Big, A Christmas Carol, Home Alone, Die Hard, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Some of my favorite elements of the film include Brandon Trost’s gorgeous cinematography, Annie Spitz’s production design (the Nutcracker Ball, including its over-the-top entrance, was my favorite set), and Zene Baker’s editing (which keeps the film moving at an energetic pace). Levine’s The Night Before is welcome holiday film that explores some surprisingly serious issues while delivering a ton of raunchy laughs for everyone to enjoy.