Monday, January 16, 2017

One Christmas Night

I haven't done so well the past few years with watching Christmas-themed movies around Christmas time. But I did get in one this season (from the previous Christmas). The Night Before follows three childhood friends, all now living different adult lives, in their quest to spend one last party-hard Christmas Eve together.

This isn't quite a stoner movie, but it is stoner adjacent. (Well, alright -- one of the characters is on drugs for basically the entire film.) This is one of those movies about the comedic premises of the scenes more than the plot. It's about finding where the line is, then boldly diving over it. It works (or doesn't) on the interplay between the characters (and their actors).

The trio in this case is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie. And while they do have a decent rapport with one another, it's everyone else in the movie that really gets the laughs. Lizzy Caplan displays dry wit as Diana, the ex-girlfriend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Ethan. Jillian Bell is great as the wildly understanding wife of Seth Rogen's Isaac (and she absolutely kills it during a particularly great dream sequence). Lorraine Toussaint is hilarious as the alternately clueless and clued-in mother of Anthony Mackie's Chris. Then there's the parade of more expected comedy performers: Mindy Kaling, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Jones, and James Franco all score decent laughs.

But the funniest moments in the film come from two people you wouldn't expect. Miley Cyrus does a great send-up of herself in a cameo appearance. And then there's Michael Shannon, best known for ultra-serious dramatic performances. Here he channels his intimidating intensity into a role as a guru/marijuana dealer, and he steals every scene he's in.

Of course, the flip side of a movie in which the funniest stuff comes from where you don't expect is that the rest of the movie isn't really as funny as it should be. Though it does have good moments, The Night Before isn't really as outrageous, as irreverent, as wild as it would like to be. Perhaps some level of sentimentality is just part of the Christmas movie formula, but it's a part I think could have been jettisoned more in this case.

I'd give The Night Before a B-. It would have been good enough to be one of a few Christmas movies to watch in December. I did it wrong by having it be the only Christmas movie I watched. Next time around, I'll have to do better.

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