Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Night Before

Title: The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine
Released: 2015
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling, Lorraine Toussaint, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Jones, Ilana Glazer, Nathan Fielder, Tracy Morgan, James Franco, Miley Cyrus

Plot: Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) have been friends since they where kids and for a decade they have reunited every Christmas Eve to try and find the mythical Christmas Party “The Nutcracka Ball”. Now realising its time to move on they reunite one final time to try once and for all to find the mythical party which has continued to elude them.

Review: Jonathan Levine is something of a frustrating oddity as he’s given us indie curiosities like “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and “50/50” but at the same time he’s also the director responsible for giving us the Twilight for Zombies “Warm Bodies”.

For some reason I went into this film expecting another round of “50/50” style indie humour, but instead here Levine sways off into frat pack territory as he trades in the smart quips for pot humour and chaos which really only more of a shame when he’s heading up the film with such an incredible trio of actors as he builds on the pairing of Gordon-Levitt and Rogen he gave us in “50/50” by adding current favourite Anthony Mackie into the mix. The fact that the trio share such a natural chemistry with each other only making it all the easier to buy them as lifelong friends despite clearly being on opposite ends of the social spectrum from each other as Chris is making a name for himself as a pro football player despite using steroids to improve his performance. Isaac is happily married with his first child on the way though he is racked with worries about his parenting abilities. Ethan meanwhile is struggling musician who pays the bills working as a waiter while still trying to get over his girlfriend Diana (Caplan).

From this setup this could easily have been a decent indie comedy in the making, but as I mentioned already this film soon veers off into frat pack territory around the same time that Isaac’s wife (Bell) gives him alittle box of drugs to take on this final Christmas eve the trio are planning to spend together while the hunt for the mythical Nutcracker Ball turns out to be less of the frantic dash across New York expected al-la Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist but more a case of waiting for the location to be confirmed thanks to Ethan stealing tickets to the ball from the coat of some rich douchebag attending the party he’s working at.

Once we get into the reunion night for the guys the film soon turns into an ever escalating list of problems for the trio as Chris has to deal with a Hans Gruber obsessed thief (Glazer) while Isaac has a drugged fuelled meltdown during a midnight mass and while they might manage to get past their issues to reunite at the Nutcracker Ball the journey we follow them on just feels like it is missing something. Perhaps its because we aren’t having to embark on this epic quest to find the Nutcracker Ball and instead killing time waiting for a phone call that stops the film flowing aswell as it should have. At the same time this idle time does not work well for the film, especially as we have each of the trio going off on their own paths rather than staying together as a group which may have been the better move, especially as the film is always at its strongest when the three of them are together.

This is of course not to say that the film is lacking in fun moments as the Chopsticks scene from “Big” gets reworked into the fun rendition of Kanye West’s “Runaway” while keeping with the “Die Hard” references we also get a spirited rendition of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” complete with some questionable dance moves. There is also some fun exchanges between the various characters with the best of these being their former High school teacher turned Pot dealer “Mr Green” who turns up frequently throughout the film to council each of the trio as he acts like a mythical guide of sorts and its a role which Michael Shannon really turns into something special than just a throwaway character which Mr Green so easily could have been.

Once we get into the Nutcracker ball its thankfully everything the film promises, while also an excuse for Levine to work in a couple of gratuitous cameo appearances from James Franco which itself felt more like an excuse to work in his ongoing homoerotic skits with Seth Rogen which here is boiled down to a phone mix up and some rather enthusiastic discussion about the size of Franco’s penis. Also on the cameo list is Miley Cyrus who is on hand to give a reworked rendition of “Wrecking Ball” to try and help Ethan win back his ex. While both are fun, neither add much to the film other than furthering the exclusiveness of the ball but when put against Michael Shannon whose own brief appearance effortless blows everything else out of the water. Mindy Kaling meanwhile continues to baffle how she keeps getting work, as once more its another flat performance, while her one big scene involving Isaac accidently dripping cocaine blood into her drink just falls flat leaving you wishing they’d just cut her out completely.

Its something of a shame to see a director like Levine aiming for the easy laughs, rather than trying to give us a more mature effort, but the crude humour aside this film still feels that its lacking the journey / quest that you’d expect from this kind of plot so that it just feels overly too easy. While there are still some fun moments to be had here, its just a lot more disposable a film than I was expecting let alone awhole less sharp. But if you want some throwaway festive viewing to accompany your food coma you can do worse.

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