The Night Before

Posted on November 19, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Copyright Sony 2015
Copyright Sony 2015

Seth Rogen. Not very surprising guest stars. Many mind-altering substances. Many bodily fluids and functions. Many bad choices. No ability to allow women to be funny, even with some of the best comic actresses of our time in the cast. Haven’t we been here before?

That’s the question the characters in this film are asking, too. Isaac (Rogen), Chris (Anthony Mackie), and Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are friends who get together each year on Christmas Eve for a series of traditions, from visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center to a karaoke bar and a toy store to play on the giant piano keyboard from “Big.” Plus donning ceremonial holiday sweaters and getting wasted. Ethan’s parents were killed just before Christmas by a drunk driver 14 years ago, and Isaac and Chris promised him they would be his family for the holidays. More than a decade later, they’ve agreed this will be the last time. Chris is getting to be a big time athletic star in the NFL, and that means endorsement money and extending his personal brand via social media. He’s a spokesman for Red Bull, which has provided a limo for the evening. And he is hiding the secret of his recent jump in performance.

Isaac is married to Betsy (criminally underused Jillian Bell), and they are about to have a baby. She is refreshingly on board with his going out for a wild night with the boys that she gives him an early Christmas gift — a box of drugs, a sort of Whitman’s Sampler with everything from ‘shrooms to Molly, with some weed and cocaine thrown in for good measure (though, as Isaac points out with a tolerant chuckle, she does not know enough to get the proportions right). Ethan is drifting professionally and personally, never following through on his music and mourning a recent breakup with Diana (criminally underused Lizzy Caplan) because he could not commit to meeting her parents or moving in together.

Many years before, on one of their Christmas eve outings, they heard about a legendary party. I mean a PARTY. I mean THE PARTY, Platonic perfection of party-dom. It has always been their fondest wish to be there. Ethan, working as a coat check elf (his elf face really is very impressive), finds three tickets to the party in a guest’s coat pocket, steals them, and walks out. The party location won’t be announced until 10, so the trio has a few hours for their traditional activities, and plan to limo over to THE PARTY to cap off the evening.

This means encounters with old friends (Diana and her friend, played by the criminally underused Mindy Kaling, plus Michael Shannon as their weed dealer back in high school, Mr. Green), and odd substances (Rogen is actually quite funny as someone going through many different effects from many different drugs). There are cheap jokes about other Christmas movies and changes in technology over the past 14 years. A pay phone. A flashback with people amazed that an iPod can like hold “like 100 songs!” A revisit to Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 at Chris’ mother’s apartment.

There are some new friends, too. “Broad City’s” Ilana Glazer is a Christmas-hating fan who has sex with Chris in a club bathroom and then turns out to be Grinch-y. Various items and people are lost and must be searched for. Isaac’s bad trip is long, strange, and barf-y. And then there is a party with some not-so-surprising guest stars and some even less surprising Christmas-y confessions, apologies, and reconciliations.

“It’s hard to stay friends when you’re older,” Isaac says. It’s also hard to translate “Superbad”-style humor into something for actors in their 30’s. It should not be so hard to find a role for female characters that goes beyond infinite understanding and adoration. There are some enjoyably silly laughs here, and not all of them are in the “oh, no, you didn’t” category. There is a sense of groping toward something more — director Jonathan Levine worked with Rogen and Gordon-Levitt in the excellent fact-based “50/50,” and there are flickers that indicate a wish for something behind drug and barf jokes. One of my Christmas wishes is that the people making this movie learn something from the characters they put on the screen and give us something better next time.

Parents should know that this film is an extremely raunchy comedy with drinking, extensive and varied drug use, constant strong and crude language, some violence, explicit sexual references and situations, and very graphic nudity.

Family discussion: How do you decide which traditions to continue and which to give up? What did Mr. Green teach Ethan, Isaac, and Chris? Is it hard to stay friends as you get older?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover,” “Pineapple Express,” and “Ted”

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Great News About Now You See Me 2

Posted on October 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

You didn’t think Arthur Tressler was going to let them get away with it, did you? I am very happy that one of the most entertaining films of 2013, Now You See Me is getting a sequel and the stars, including Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Woody Harrelson, are back, along with some fantastic new additions: Daniel Radcliffe (who knows something about magic) and Lizzy Caplan (“Masters of Sex”). And taking over directing duties is John Chu, of the “Step Up” movies. Can’t wait.

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