Three best dude friends with pretty much nothing in common have nevertheless been engaged in an intense ongoing bromance for more than a decade, and they are about to embark on a would-be epic Christmas Eve blowout, a one-last “best fuckin’ night of our lives!” Which pretty much sounds like my nightmare movie scenario.
And yet The Night Before charmed me. Just a little, and in spite of its many problems. Pro athlete Chris (Anthony Mackie: Love the Coopers), expectant dad Isaac (Seth Rogen: Steve Jobs), and unrepentant slacker Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The Walk) may be an unlikely trio, but these three actors have so much wonderfully appealing chemistry together that it’s easy to overlook the implausibility of their friendship.
Their quest this Christmas Eve to finally get to the legendary New York City underground holiday party known as the Nutcracker Ball — which they’ve been hearing about for years but never managed to snag tickets to until now — is bogged down by too many derailing tangents, from a cocaine-fueled grossout encounter with a martini to the “let’s play videogames while we wait for our drug dealer to show up.” But there are nuggets of intrigue even here: after an awkward and halting introduction, the always magnificent Michael Shannon (99 Homes) as their mystical weed connection blossoms into something weirdly fun; and an accidental mobile-phone switcheroo that sees Isaac on the receiving end of some dick pix meant for someone else completely smashes the homophobic rabbit hole a movie like this would have gleefully gone down just a few years ago, and instead ends up embracing a warm, sweet, genuine okayness with bicuriosity.
The thing I usually hate about movies like this is how mean-spirited they can be. But this one actually manages to get close to an authentic, if totally unorthodox and unsentimental, spirit of the season as all about friends and family who accept you as you are and want to hang with you anyway.