‘tis the season, once again. It’s a Wonderful Life on every channel, fifty million remakes of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (my favorites are Scrooged, and, of course, The Muppets), a dear sweet Linus teaching us what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. Good food, friends, family, the possibility that Mum will finally get me that pony, yes; it’s a most wonderful time of the year!
For Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) it’s all about his friends; in 2001 both of his parents were taken from him in a tragic car accident. On Christmas Eve, his best friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) resolve to rescue him from his depression, and thus, an annual tradition is born of the three spending that night together. Some years later on one such night out, they meet a woman who tells them of a particularly debaucherous party she has just come from – the Nutcracker Ball – and the boys have spent ever since seeking that magical party.
It’s Christmas Eve 2015; Chris is getting his big break as a famous sportsman, complete with a sponsorship from Red Bull, Isaac is married and expecting a child with Betsy (Jillian Bell), and Ethan? Ethan is a failed musician, recently lost his girlfriend (Diana, played by Lizzy Caplan), and is being chewed out by his boss for not acting enough like an elf while serving nibbles at a party. Relegated to the coat-check, Ethan makes an incredible discovery one of the pockets; three tickets to the Nutcracker Ball.
And what timing! Isaac and Chris have agreed that, now they’re grown, the tradition should probably end, but with so little in his life, they worry that Ethan may not be as ready as they are. With a box of drugs provided by Betsy, a limo, some horrible sweaters, and a series of wacky traditions (like karaoke and re-enacting the piano scene from Big) the stage is set for what promises to be a crazy night for the friends.
It’s not completely unexpected when, quite early into the film, the lives of Chris and Isaac are revealed to be less than perfect. Chris, despite his years of hard work has turned to steroids as his window draws to a close. He’s the butt of jokes among his teammates, who he desperately wishes to impress. Behind his cocky façade he’s incredibly insecure. Isaac is not quite as prepared to be a father as he’s led everyone to believe; indeed, during a bad trip, fuelled by cocaine he records a very freaked out message to his future self that they have to get rid of the baby. This becomes a key plot point, as he accidentally switches phones with Sarah (Mindy Kaling) who…it turns out she has some pretty “sensitive” material on her phone, too.
There’s a really great scene towards the end of the film (which includes a cameo, as herself, by Miley Cyrus, who – squee! – sings Wrecking Ball) that seems perfectly set up to follow all our clichéd romantic expectations; a grand gesture, a confession of love, we’ve all been to this show before. But it is then so beautifully shattered, and it’s so fitting that it’s Lizzy Caplan who gets to call out exactly what utter crap it is. James Franco also appears as himself, and Tracy Morgan narrates.
The Night Before is a story about friends, and about growing up. It’s hard, and things inevitably have to change, but, as the final moments of the film prove, your friends will get you through. And there is a time for old traditions.
The Night Before is in cinemas from December 3rd.