Being funny isn’t always enough. Or, maybe more accurately, being occasionally funny isn’t enough. At least for movies. If a person is occasionally funny and not a complete drag the rest of the time, that’s probably acceptable. It doesn’t work for movies though. That’s the biggest takeaway message from the Jonathan Levine directed “The Night Before” (2015) — being funny isn’t enough.
The new holiday comedy has some hugely funny people up front in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie. It also has an incredibly funny supporting cast in Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Ilana Glazer, Michael Shannon, and Nathan Fielder. It even has great cameos by from Jason Mantzoukas, Tracy Morgan, Jason Jones, and more. Did I laugh? I did. But I also left the theater disappointed.
We find Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (Mackie) out on their last Christmas Eve together. The three are friends from high school who have had a years-long, boozy holiday tradition which is ending as Isaac and Chris feel as though they’ve gotten too old for it. This annual event began after Ethan lost his parents near the holidays and the other two tried to snap him out of it. It sort of worked, they had a great time, but Ethan’s found himself emotionally stuck at that point ever since.
Yup, it’s a case of arrested development with a bunch of 30-something guys acting like the worst sort of college guys you can imagine. It is a tale of perpetual adolescence, and as much as Isaac and Chris may say they want out, their actions throughout the night do nothing but reinforce their desire to have things remain as they are. Mostly, it seems, because that’s funnier.
Naturally, both Isaac and Chris are dealing with issues of their own – Isaac is about to be a first time father and Chris has finally gotten good at professional football via his use of performance enhancing drugs. Isaac’s excuses for acting poorly on this particular Christmas go beyond the dad thing as his wife, for reasons that are wholly inexplicable, gives him a box of illegal drugs as he’s on his way out with the boys. She says it’s so that he can have one last fun night which is just about the weakest excuse the movie could possibly use for a bunch of drug-induced humor.
Boy, that all makes me sound angry at the movie and I’m really not. As I said up top, some of that humor, even the drug-induced stuff, is great. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments in the film, it’s just that the rest of it is flat and the story—much of which surrounds the guys looking for mythical alcohol and drug filled holiday part—is boring.
One of the big reasons for this is that there is simply not enough there there. By giving each of these three main characters their own distinct story, none of the stories gets enough depth or time. This is made worse by the film’s obsessive need to explain everything, including some jokes, two or three or more times (as though we all have short term memory loss).
If “The Night Before” had just gone out and tried to be funny and not cared at all about having “heart” and telling a story with a strong emotional base it could have been fantastic. Instead, it comes to a crashing halt more than once so that we can all be reminded that Ethan lost his father or that Isaac is having a kid or that Chris is cheating at his chosen profession.
By attempting to satisfy everyone, it ends up disappointing. I say go for the gusto, go big or go home. More people aren’t going to go see “The Night Before,” which is absolutely being pitched as a crass drug-filled comedy as it has a serious set of stories going on. An overall lighthearted tale would have gone a lot further.
But, because I’m now repeating myself (like the movie), I’m going to roll the credits.
photo credit: Sony Pictures