From the guys who brought you Neighbors, This Is The End, and ALMOST The Interview... Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been friends since childhood, and for a decade, their yearly Christmas Eve reunion has been an annual night of debauchery and hilarity. Now that they're entering adulthood, the tradition is coming to an end, and to make it as memorable as possible, they set out to find the Nutcracka Ball – the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.
Not since 'Scrooged' have the movies taken on Christmastime with such irreverent glee. 'The Night Before' is a raunchy, drug-fueled Christmas buddy comedy that delightfully abstains from logic, trading it for a surreal quasi-reality wherein anything can happen, especially warped Christmas miracles.
Three buddies, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie), have a tradition. Every year, for fourteen years, the three of them have met up on Christmas Eve to hang out. Ever since Ethan's parents were run down by a drunk driver Isaac and Chris are the only family he's had.
Only now the trio is moving on. This will be the last time the three of them take on Christmas Eve in New York City together. That's because Isaac is about to be a father and Chris is far too famous a professional football player to be palling around with two dopes all the time. Ethan, sadly, is the one stuck in the past. Like Gary King from 'The World's End,' Ethan is stymied by a deadly case of arrested development. He's unable to move on, while his friends have passed him by.
The night is full of promise. A secret invite to one of the city's most exclusive parties has found its way into Ethan's hands. They have to go, but not before they find themselves embroiled in cheeky hijinks with a wide variety of nefarious characters.
Nothing about the Christmas holiday is left sacred, which is to be expected when folks like Rogen, and his long-time collaborator Evan Goldberg are involved. So, it's safe to say if you were incensed by the Starbucks Christmas cup controversy, then 'The Night Before' will send you into a frothing rage.
Awash in current social media humor 'The Night Before' feels like a stoner comedy for Millennials. Though it doesn't forget where it came from, because it also feels like a love letter to Christmas movies past. It never misses an opportunity to reference films like 'It's a Wonderful Life,' 'A Christmas Carol,' or even 'Die Hard.' It's determined to carve out its own niche in the "Must Watch This Every Christmas" category, all the while still paying homage to those that came before.
Oh, and it's funny. It really is. Each guy plays his part to perfection. Mackie adds the charm and bravado. Rogen is the bumbling drugged-out doofus. And Gordon-Leavitt pulls it all together with his palpable vulnerability and goodness. He's the believer, whereas the people around him are simply there to help him continue believing. Yet, as per the norm, Michael Shannon steals the show as a mystic/drug dealer the guys knew as Mr. Green in high school.
Like many successful R-rated comedies 'The Night Before' deals in lurid humor, which is buttressed by an emotional core. That core is essential to keeping the movie grounded as much as possible. To keep us interested in these characters as people and not just props for comedy. That's what "The Night Before" understands. The comedy is much more effective if the audience cares about the characters in the middle of it.
There are so many memorable moments that it's futile to try and list them. It indeed cements itself as a movie that should be watched every holiday season from now on, but just make sure the kids are in bed before you do.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a pretty barebones release. Only one disc, which is a 50GB Blu-ray. An UltraViolet Digital Copy is also provided. A slipcover is included.
Intentionally filmed with a gauze-covered look, 'The Night Before' sports a deliberate softened look. Light sources are bright and a little more diffused than other movies might be. This is most assuredly to do with the overall feel of the movie. As the movie calls up all sorts of Christmastime cinematic references, the soft dreamlike look of the whole movie actually makes sense.
So, the softness does wash out a little detail here and there. Bright lights bleed over edges, causing a surreal glow. That said, most detail is still outstanding. Upon close-ups, faces are well defined. The ugly sweaters the trio embraces appear almost tangible. Black areas are a tad softer than one might suspect, but again that can probably be chalked up to the intentional gauzy look.
Digital anomalies like banding, aliasing, and other problems are nowhere to be found. Colors are strong, even though the movie takes place mostly at night. Shadows are nicely delineated. While this may not be the sharpest visual Blu-ray out there, it does accurately reflect the vision of the filmmakers.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix offers up a straightforward mix, which provides a few surprises along the way. As a comedy most of the film is dialogue which is centered up front. The dialogue is clear at all times, even when characters are talking over each other. Directionality was pretty spot-on too.
Surprises of auditory delight pop up win the guys break out in song whether it's tapping out the notes to Kanye West's "Runaway" on a giant floor piano at FAO Schwartz, or a lively rendition of Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" in a local karaoke bar. The vocals echo through the front and center channels, creating an encompassing effect for a brief time.
Ambient noise of New York City is frequently popping up the rear channels. Sounds like car horns, sirens, and people milling about, are the usual surround sound suspects. LFE is nice too, when it's called upon during the hip-hop renditions. Nothing overwhelming though. Just a strong audio mix for a smaller comedy.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD, 10 min.) – There are four deleted or extended scenes: "Red Bull Limo," "This Isn't Your Phone," "Midnight Mass," and "Chris Arrives."
Gag Reel (HD, 1 min.) – A short, standard gag reel.
Christmas in the Summer (HD, 6 min.) – A short look at what it was like shooting a Christmas movie in summer weather.
The Spirit of Christmas (HD, 3 min.) – A brief promo reel of the cast and crew discussing their own Christmas traditions.
Drunkest Santas on the Block (HD, 4 min.) – Somehow they squeeze even more out of the two drunk Santas Ethan meets played by Jason Mantzoukas and Jason Jones.
Midnight Mass with Nana (HD, 4 min.) – The making of the church scene with Seth Rogen.
Whale Juice (HD, 3 min.) – A look inside the strip club sequence.
Mr. Green O-Rama (HD, 4 min.) – A slightly in-depth look at one of the movie's most loveable characters.
Making One Epic Party (HD, 20 min.) – This is the making-of portion that talks mostly about the filming, the screenplay, how they wanted to blend raunchy humor with real emotion, etc. I was surprised it went on as long as it did, but it's still on the edge of promotional fluff.
I laughed a lot, and that's what I expect from a movie like this. The way they're able to reference Christmas classics all the while creating one that could enter that pantheon sometime in the future is quite impressive. This will be one we crack open every December. Adults need Christmas movie traditions too. With solid audio and video presentations this one comes recommended.