‘The Night Before’
Director: Jonathan Levine
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen
3 (out of 5) Globes
Seth Rogen is a ways into his 30s, far enough that he’s already made a good handful of films about what it’s like to be a fun-loving goofball worried about getting old and mature. In fact, the shtick is already suffering from diminishing returns, as opposed to getting wiser with age. The plaint in “The Night Before” isn’t as pronounced or as deeply felt as it was in “Neighbors,” in which Rogen played a new dad annoyed by how annoyed he’s become by young people partying like he once did. Here, he’s an about-to-be-dad vexed that he can no longer relate to a longtime friend (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who’s still single, still underemployed and still hasn’t gotten his stuff together.
For nearly all of “The Night Before,” this anxiety is buried under an “Exodus”-sized tidal wave of raunchy jokes, loopy jokes and jokes about prolific recreational drug use. Rogen’s Isaac has spent every year since his college days spending Christmas Eve on a sloppy night on the town with besties Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie). Over the years Isaac has settled down while pro footballer Chris has enjoyed sudden, secretly steroid-infected success. Ethan has neither love nor a decent career, and when the film kicks off in the present — after a prologue that plays like a hand-me-down version of the thematically similar and far more gutting “The World’s End” — Isaac and Chris are slightly reluctant to partake in the annual tradition at all, content to make it their last go.
But they agree to go out with a bang, which in Isaac’s case means consuming the entirety of a box of assorted drugs gifted to him by his very pregnant wife (the very funny Jillian Bell, only mildly wasted). They want to forget their problems and so, for the most part, does “The Night Before,” which occasionally remembers to nod to the anguish of aging but mostly revels in graffiti-ing the Christmas movie in gross-out gags, scenes of Rogen stuffing his head with shrooms and coke like he was at an eat-off and a running joke about dick pics. When our three leads need to change things up, in swings a killer ringer, from Ilana Glazer to Mindy Kaling to, best of all, Michael Shannon, transplanting his quiet intensity to a full-on comedy and handily towering over all the genre regulars.
Rogen had no hand in the screenplay, but like his own films “This is the End” and “The Interview,” “The Night Before” knows how to cut loose and turn weird. It’s also more sweet, but it’s not as great at integrating that side — the one supposed to make this bacchanal semi-respectful and not just a sea of drug and weenis jokes. The director (and one of four writers) is Jonathan Levine, whose films — including the Rogen-/Gordon-Levitt-starring cancer dramedy “50/50,” plus “The Wackness” and “Warm Bodies” — invariably feature heartsick boys. Here, Ethan is nursing a break-up, if one he engineered because he was commitment-phobing with a very nice girl (Lizzy Caplan), who winds up in the boys’ nighttime orbit. Ethan’s arc is sincere without being particularly novel or thought-out. That’s fine as there’s plenty of distractions. But there’s so many of them that the very real but tepidly handled unease about getting older feels more like the real distraction. Whether or not the sadsack guy will get the girl doesn’t stand a chance against a scene where Rogen vomits in a packed church while wearing a Star of David sweater.