The party-focused Jonathan Levine film The Night Before premiered on Nov. 20, leaving viewers wondering if they paid for a Christmas-themed re-installment of “The Hangover” or a new Christmas classic.
Albeit unconventional, the Columbia Pictures film—starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie—could likely become a Christmas favorite among young adults and, admittedly, some mature audience members too.
The film—which follows the long-standing Christmas tradition of a New York City friend group—opens with a flashback to the unfortunate early adulthood of aspiring singer Ethan Miller, played by Levitt.
Fourteen years prior, Ethan’s parents passed away in a car accident on Christmas Eve. Traumatized and alone, Ethan’s friends Isaac, played by Rogen, and Chris, played by Mackie, decided to ease his pain by taking him out in “the big apple” every Christmas Eve.
The 14-year-long tradition comes to a head when Isaac and Chris decide to make this year’s celebration the final hoorah. In essence, Isaac, who is expecting a child, and Chris, a successful, A-list athlete, grapple with their adulthood—ultimately choosing to take the higher road and end their partying after a last holiday in the city.
After a family gathering at Isaac’s house, Isaac’s wife gifts him a box of drugs—which she called a “thank you” for his paternal support throughout her pregnancy—and the youthful trio make their way downtown.
While the night ahead of the group is unpredictable, Levine made it clear from the get-go that the men’s overall goal was to score tickets to the prestigious “Nutcracker Ball,” a socialite party they’d dreamed of attending since the beginning of their Christmas Eve tradition. Luckily, due to a little pick pocketing on Ethan’s part, their dream becomes a reality at the movie’s climax.
As their crazy night ensues, viewers get a feeling for the personalities and interests of the three—which stays consistent the whole way through.
Isaac spends the night trying the array of Craig’s List drugs his wife provided—landing himself in the most unexpected of situations. From a lost phone to “shroom-induced,” and uncomfortably public, conversations with nativity scene figurines, Isaac embarrasses himself more times than the number of sexual innuendos that line the film.
The seemingly endless embarrassment comes to a head when Isaac—clad in a “Star of David” sweater—is pressured into attending a Catholic mass alongside his wife’s conservative family.
Chris, the steroid-using athlete of the group, spends his time basking in his recent stardom—signing autographs, having sex with fans and filming the night for his “on point” social media. He’s the quintessential jock, and his apparent narcissism serves as the unexpected moral to the unrealistic comedy: that companionship is more valuable than any social endeavor or reputation.
Ethan, a hopeless romantic and loyal friend, spends the night trying to win back his ex, Diana, who ironically finds herself at the “Nutcracker Ball” alongside him.
At the end of all the shot-taking and drug-doing, the group enters their dream party, alongside a motivational Miley Cyrus—who convinces Ethan to propose to Diana over a dramatic rendition of Diana’s favorite song, “Wrecking Ball.” Although humor lines this pivotal turning point in the movie—as Cyrus acts, well, like herself—Ethan’s sub-par rendition of the Cyrus hit is surprisingly heartwarming.
As every Christmas movie tends to go, the group’s friendship is unusually strengthened through their night in the city of lights and Christmas carries on.
While the general consensus is that The Night Before serves up more laughs than Christmas spirit, it’s an undeniably successful comedy. Every pivotal, serious moment in the film is lined in humor and sandwiched between hilariously awkward situations and unexpected plot twists.
The film—which was projected to gross $12-13 million from 2,960 theatres—grossed $9.9 million in its opening weekend, just slightly below expectations. By the end of its second week, the film finished 6th at the box office, behind Mockingjay – Part 2 ($102.7 million), Spectre ($15 million) and The Peanuts Movie ($13.2 million).