The Night Before

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The Night Before

Rated: R / Runtime: 1h 41m

The Night Before, a holiday Hangover, a spectacle comedy of man-children and pop culture riffs, rises above its raunchy reference humor thanks to its consequence-driven character exploration.

Not to mention this is one of the only R-rated comedies I’ve seen where the supporting female cast gets arcs of their own. Lizzy Caplan (as Diana, the girl Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t commit to) is coy, sexual, and adamantly set in her values – all while fan-girling over Miley Cyrus. It’s just a nice bonus that her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt is off the charts. Thanks to the honesty of the characters, their responses, and their teasing, sharp dialogue, their collective ten or so minutes of conversation resonate like every wannabe star vehicle rom-com in the last ten years has not. Jillian Bell, as Seth Rogen’s pregnant wife, explores maturity and maternity with heart, even as she’s providing Rogen’s character with a boxful of “every drug”.

Thankfully, the character-centric surprises don’t stop there. Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, an orphaned thirty-something clinging to the gimcrack traditions built with his friends in their early twenties. His friends are his family and they’re growing up, leaving his arrested development behind. Rogen’s Isaac is on the brink of fatherhood, and much like his character in the excellent Neighbors, he struggles with accepting domestic responsibility at the expense of unlimited, reckless freedom. Anthony Mackie completes the trio as newly minted football star Chris, social media whore and steroid abuser. Each expresses symptoms of the Peter Pan syndrome sweeping through R-rated comedies, though more thoughtfully than The Night Before’s contemporaries.

Even if this film doesn’t ask you to think hard, it’s progressivism still finds root in its open-mindedness. Religiously, familially, and sexually, The Night Before posits that everything is in shades of grey. Chris’s mom, played by the excellent Lorraine Toussaint, is shown as a good mother and Christian that gives dinner leftovers to the homeless while swearing at Ethan for losing the girl of his dreams. This isn’t a sassy grandma or a saintly mother; she’s just nuanced enough to stay with you and seem real. A shrooming Isaac receives dick pics thanks to an accidental phone-swap, and his increasingly open replies to them are the opposite of the standard bro-comedy’s gay panic. The movie isn’t making fun of him, or the fact that he may not be 100% heterosexual, but rather the absurdity of the situation. Surprisingly enough, those penises are the only nudity in the film, which is absurdly refreshing in its own right. No topless Christmas elves just because, only the equity of male nudity.

But that’s not the only way The Night Before subverts expectations. From the grand musical number ending in a dramatic gesture that is soundly rejected to the corporate sponsorship whose product is the butt of jokes, The Night Before knows how dumb you think it is and surprises at every turn. Bolstered by amusing cameos by Miley Cyrus and Nathan Fielder, spectacle comedy and ubiquitous product placement roast on their skewers alongside emotional immaturity. Michael Shannon, as a drug-dealing riff on about ten holiday classics, has the most Oscar-worthy supporting performance in a comedy since Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. Gruff gravitas and stoner humor have never found a more perfect conduit.

Although the film could’ve been much improved, not to mention about twenty minutes shorter, if it cut the five or six musical numbers, The Night Before rises above its raunchy competitors thanks to its understanding of consequential storytelling.

I’m not talking point A to point B plot road-mapping, but a story in which the actions and responses of its characters create noticeable changes. I don’t want to end up with the same happy-go-lucky bar-hopping losers that we started off with. They’re presented as a problem.

Other comedies with similar veins would keep the ending open for the possibilities for a sequel, but here it’s impossible. The very notion of a sequel, of seeing these same characters do more of the same, undermines the very premise.

The emotional closure, the growth – too honest to be hokey, even if the writing often has a laser target on the proverbial nose – pushes its characters into adulthood through their close friendship. The closer you are with someone, the harder it is to tell them they need to change. Inside this, The Night Before nests the notion that these are often the only people that CAN say these things. And of course, the outermost nesting doll is the one caked in weed, tacky sweaters, and hilarious jokes.

Jacob Oller is an Oklahoma City film critic and writer. Find more of his work at or

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