The Night Before

The Night Before

2015, R, 101 min. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon, Nathan Fielder.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 20, 2015

If your Santa wish list includes yet another “James Franco swings secretly gay” gag, then Christmas has come early for you, friend: The Night Before has granted that wish. Hopes for a truly great holiday comedy, alas, will be dashed.

The elements are all there: the tried-and-true one-crazy-night template; a trio of likable leads, bolstered by gifted supporting actors; a director who’s shown skill combining comedy with more dramatic elements (the zombie Romeo and Juliet riff Warm Bodies and cancer dramedy 50/50); and the surprise delight of the forever-frowning Michael Shannon playing a stoned Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

The night in question is Christmas Eve, as three best friends embark on their last bro-out before Isaac (Rogen) becomes a father for the first time. They run through their regular ritual, first started when Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) was orphaned as a teenager: the Rockefeller tree, drunken karaoke, a Chinese feast, all while on the hunt for the Nutcracker Ball, a Valhalla-like secret party they’ve never been able to find. But this year’s different. They actually have tickets. And since Chris (Mackie) is now a famous football player, they’ve got a stretch Hummer to get them there. Also, Isaac’s super-chill wife (Bell, MVP with the hardest laugh line) has handed him a smorgasbord of drugs and full leave to party like there’s no tomorrow. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, not enough. This “one crazy night” taps out at lightly kooky; there’s nothing here that gets within striking distance of the sheer weirdness of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or the darkness of After Hours, to name two genre stablemates. Motoring affably along from one comic set-piece to the next – and a few are very, very funny – The Night Before never falls apart, but it never really comes together, either. It’s a Christmas gift that’ll be forgotten by the time the wrapping paper hits the recycling bin.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Jonathan Levine
From the Vaults: Balancing Acts
From the Vaults: Balancing Acts
Jonathan Levine has become the go-to guy for tonally adroit filmmaking

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 1, 2013

More Jonathan Levine Films
Long Shot
Timely political rom-com finds new common ground for opposites attracting each other

Kimberley Jones, May 3, 2019

A mother/daughter vacation from hell

Steve Davis, May 12, 2017

More by Kimberley Jones
Gobble Gobble Yada Yada
Gobble Gobble Yada Yada
In this week’s issue: Evil MoPac speaks, holiday shopping begins

Nov. 24, 2023

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
YA epic's prequel can't catch the book's inner fire

Nov. 17, 2023


The Night Before, Jonathan Levine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon, Nathan Fielder

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle