Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #635
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Jonathan Levine
Producers: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Screenplay: Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg
Cinematography: Brandon Trost
Score: Marco Beltrami, Miles Hankins
Editing: Zene Baker
Studios: Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon, Lorraine Toussaint, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Jones, Ilana Glazer, Nathan Fielder, Randall Park, Helene York, Aaron Hill, Baron Davis, James Franco, Miley Cyrus
Narrated by Tracy Morgan
Suggested Audio Stocking Fillers ❄
 Miami Sound Machine “Bad Boy”
 Run DMC “Christmas In Hollis”
 Darlene Love “All Alone On Christmas”
 Ice Cube “Check Yo Self”
 Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball”
They say that growing up is hard to do and I make them right you know. One of the grim realizations of adult life is that you will no longer be permitted to act in quite such an irresponsible manner and it is inevitable that, at some point, you’ll be required to knuckle down and tow the line. As a self-confessed man-child, I get that. It’s been scientifically proven that the fairer sex mature at a far more accelerated rate, while overspilling testosterone does its darnedest to keep us alphas rooted firmly in perpetual childhood. Let’s not taunt the tallywhacker here, most men can do a reasonably decent impression of acting grown-up. But it’s what we get up to when left to our own devices with our own gender that raises eyebrows. I’m generalizing of course but, cards on the table, I’m reasonably assured that my readership is falling into two distinct camps right now. Those rolling their eyes as they know only too well where I’m coming from and any fellow man-children offering up mental high-fives as they know only too well where I’m coming from.
Take it from me. I’ve partaken in numerous men-only poker games where the air is thick with expelled rectal gases, where every other word is either “fuck”, “ho”, or “bollocks”, and where every last hombre dealt in endeavors only to regress back to fetal stage. While the cats are away, we mice do like to play. This entails calling time on everyday pursuits such as shaving, washing, and cleaning up after us, in favor of marking our territory in as unsavory a manner as inhumanly possible. If this sounds infantile, then you’re very much darned in your tooting. That said, once the time comes to cease acting like delinquents and take control of our responsibilities, the transformation is staggering. Suddenly we load those dishwashers, take out the garbage, and pick the kids up from school barely five minutes tardy. You see, for all our reckless behavior, most of us appreciate that this freedom to do whatever the hell we want is ultimately just self-absorbed fantasy.
Jonathan Levine’s The Night Before makes no secret of where it stands on the matter and opens as a literal storybook to leave us under no illusion that, for the next 101 minutes of woeful decision-making and crazed excess, reality will be little more than a mild acquaintance. Levine (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Warm Bodies) reunites with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt from his well received 2011 comic drama, 50/50, and throws Anthony Mackie into the mix to make up our three wise men. Our fable will see them following a wandering star to where it twinkles brightest, although the lowly cattle shed from the good book has been replaced by the “Nutcracka Ball”, a heaving invite-only annual Christmas Eve rave somewhere deep in the heart of NYC. Its tradition is one of modern folklore and only a chosen few will ever have had the hedonistic pleasure of attending.
Enter lifelong friends Isaac (Rogen) Chris (Mackie), and Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), three thirtysomethings of decidedly opposing fortunes united by the common goal of locating this jamboree and finding out what all the fuss is about. Having eluded them for 14 years thus far, the likeliness of success is slender, although struggling musician Ethan happens across the “golden tickets” they crave while performing his elf duties at a well-to-do hotel soirée. Life hasn’t always been kind to Ethan, having had his parents suddenly and tragically snatched away back in his college days, but his luck appears to have changed and he is determined to share this outrageous fortune with the two guys who helped him through the darkest period of his life.
Things have worked out a little more kindly for Chris, whose late-bloomer football star status affords him a lifestyle not dependent on making ends meet. If Ethan has entry covered, then Chris is only too happy to donate a Red Bull sponsored stretch limousine for the Christmas cause, and considering this proposes to be the last time this band of brothers will celebrate their long-standing tradition, he figures they may as well spend it like kings. As for lawyer Isaac, well he’s settled for a far safer, middle-of-the-road existence and is preparing for the birth of his first child with his fit to pop better half Betsy (Jillian Bell). So what can this Hanukkah sweater wearing numpty possibly hope to bring to the party? That’s elementary my dear Watsons, this is Seth Rogen beneath the embroidered Star of Isaac and we all know this cat knows how to load a bong.
To his glee-laced astonishment, Betsy has seen fit to grant him this one final blow-out with his buddies before rolling up those sleeves in preparation for the terrifyingly blackened first diaper change. Better yet, she has lovingly prepared him a gift hamper of sorts, although it appears she has overlooked the cranberry sauce and mulled wine. Perhaps baby brain kicks in early nowadays. That’s a negative as the contents of this particular Pandora’s box comprise every conceivable narcotic on the naughty list, from uppers to downers, gateway drugs to hard-line face peelers, and every last Class A, B or C in-between. Just to be clear, it’s a pretty small receptacle, and her naïvety in this field becomes crystal clear as the trio settle down to smoke themselves a doob. You see, all those hypodermic needles and crack rocks take up space and this affects the quantity side of things significantly.
Mercifully, their friendly neighborhood dealer Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) is only ever a quick lamp rub away and he proposes all the weed they could need in exchange for one exceedingly awkward bonding experience in his four-wheeled sorting office. One transaction later and they’re ready to paint the town green. But what is this? Why is Pandora’s Box now empty? Mr. Rogen, can you cast any light over this mysterious disappearance? Why are your eyes so bloodshot Seth? That Jewish pullover getting a little hot under the collar is it? I’m certain that facial twitch wasn’t there a moment ago. You did, didn’t you? Every last candy? And how do you think that’s going to work out for you? For the love of brisket, please refrain from wandering over to the Nativity scene with that vague look of the unhinged spread across your face. Too late. See you in confessional.
With Isaac gone rogue, Ethan decides it is time for him too to throw caution to the wind. His former girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) just so happens to be bound for the Nutcracker Ball and, while she paroled his raggedy ass for failing to commit to his life sentence, he has had himself an epiphany and can now clearly see the benefits of repeat offending. This leaves Chris fighting tooth and nail not to become the token black guy and his own voyage of discovery entails realizing that, at some point, he’s going to wind up a retired football star and be left with only the most miniscule of emotional pensions to show for it. Each have their own reasoning for following this star to their own personal Bethlehem and are more than catered for on the shenanigans front.
Rogen sticks out like a sore thumb here but in the very best way as he wears his alternative plain of reality badge across his constantly perspiring face to glorious effect. He may not possess Merchant-Ivory range, but that’s not to say that his squirming drug-addled turn doesn’t bleed through every last prised open pore. I’m telling you, if he wasn’t absolutely fucked up whilst shooting this, then he’s one helluva fine actor. Watching Isaac fail so comprehensively in his attempts at holding his shit together provides no end of agonizing amusement, and while Rogen frequently upstages his two compadres, this never threatens to derail the sleigh.
Meanwhile, the ever brilliant Shannon is the angel on top of the fern as their high school hook-up, Mr. Green. Veiled beneath a thick cloud of ganja smoke, he plays the one part nostalgist, one philosopher role to perfection. It may appear that getting high on his own supply is his sole USP but there’s something about the way this shepherd watches his flock that suggests higher purpose, and while one of Shannon’s more low-key turns, it’s no less masterful than his usual pitch-perfect delivery.
Speaking of divinity, Bell is equally tremendous as Isaac’s long-suffering wife and massive kudos must go to Levine and his co-writing buddies Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir and Evan Goldberg for making her character far more willing to bear her cross than is customary. Clearly Betsy’s hormones are all out of whack but she’s far more than simple cookie-cutter and the rosy glow in her cheeks isn’t just down to the bun in her biological oven.
As for the scatterbrained antic side of things, all bases are soundly covered, with no end of hair-raising antics to ensure that downward-spiraling momentum is not squandered. We’re talking shit-kickings from sloshed bad Santas, midnight mass meltdowns, seat-of-the-pants sleigh rides, and a quick visit to the Rockefeller Plaza for a street wise spin on the life-sized piano routine from Penny Marshall’s festive favorite, Big. Yet there’s still more to be found in the stocking.
In the aptly named Rebecca Grinch (Ilana Glazer), we even have ourselves a pocket-picking sworn enemy, and she pops up ad hoc wearing her most devious grin just to ensure that the path ahead is fraught with all the requisite peril. With regards to the elusive pot ‘o’ god at the end of the rainbow, Levine has one final trick up his sleeve and it just so happens to be a bona fide doozy. Ordinarily any cameo by James Franco would receive front and centre observation but the “Nutcracka Ball” has another scene stealer in mind for its grand finale and her name is… Miley Cyrus.
Veering more toward the Cyrus The Virus end of the scale than Hannah Montana-ville, Miley makes the very most of her special guest spot and, while I didn’t spot a runaway wrecking ball at any moment, there is no need for us to claw or chain our hearts in vain as we fall under a spell that no one could deny. Given that the film is all about enthusiastic excess and reckless endangerment, it feels most poetic that the songbird who knows no shame be gift-wrapped her very own Sinderella moment. Somehow she manages to be self-deprecating while still remaining dignified and it reminds us that there is far more to Ms. Cyrus than a pair of powerhouse tonsils and some mad ball swinging skills.
The Night Before is far from perfect but close enough to rattle past like a reindeer on uppers and provide the ideal tonic for those Yuletide hangovers. Not since Richard Donner’s Scrooged have the festivities been plundered with such rambunctious relish, and while time will tell whether or not Levine’s film will become another long-standing festive tradition, this Christmas I’m more than content with giving it my heart. That said, after watching poor frazzled Isaac requesting that his glass be topped up, I think I may skip on the trimmings. Just not feeling calamari I’m afraid.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Love her groans or loathe her bones, there can be no denying that Ms. Cyrus is making the very most of her time here on Planet Earth and, while David Attenborough has the nature side covered, this effervescent young woman teaches us all we could ever need to know about falling from grace without any sense of disgrace. Granted, I may toss the odd sly dig her way for shits and giggles, but there’s a matter-of-factness about her that I find hugely refreshing and there seems no better way to celebrate this than a parting gallery in her honor. I reckon I might have been hanging out with bad Santa too long you know. I’d check myself but, with Miley steering the ball, I’d only end up wrecking myself.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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