Given how long Seth Rogen has been in our lives, it’s still hard to believe that the guy most of us met on Freaks and Geeks 16 years ago is only 33 years old. The man has 18 writing credits, 71 film credits, and he’s even co-directed a couple of films. With Preacher — which he’s bringing from the page to small screen on AMC next year — coming out, Rogen has quietly become something of a huge one-man industry, writing, producing and/or starring in a couple of movies a year, while popping up in on other friend’s movie and television projects.
His best work, however, still mixes elements of his first series Freaks and Geeks and the first movie he wrote, Superbad: Pot and friendship. It’s signature Apatow: Comedy + Heart = Profit. They are not plot-driven films; they’re relationship films, driven by antics and conversation. He’s basically doing what Kevin Smith did for a decade, only with more famous friends and a bigger budget
The Night Before is much the same: Three buddies who have spent the last 14 Christmases reveling together meet up for one last drug-and-party fueled Christmas before they agree to devote themselves to their families. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, the wayward one who lost both of his parents on Christmas in high school, prompting the annual tradition after Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) decided to join him on Christmas to make sure he never felt alone.
This last Christmas together is mired in complication, however. Ethan is struggling with commitment issues with his ex-girlfriend, Diana (Lizzy Caplan); Chris is dealing with fame as a suddenly successful NFL player, thanks to steroids; and Isaac is terrified because he’s about to have a baby. This last Christmas together also has the white whale of parties going for it: They finally land invitations to the Nutcracker Ball, a huge shebang in a hidden location that the three have unsuccessfully attempted to find for the last 14 years.
Like Rogen’s better movies, The Night Before is mostly drug-fueled mayhem (the church sequence teased in the trailers is painfully funny); fun cameos (Ilana Glazer, Minday Kaling, and Miley Cyrus are among them); and friendship. There’s also a lot of fun allusions to other Christmas films (Die Hard, Home Alone) as well, and, naturally, the entire movie is framed by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, which comes in the form of a pot dealer played terrifically by Michael Shannon (easily the best part of the film).
It drags in a couple of parts and not all the comedy sequences are successful, but it’s a great, warm, funny holiday film perfect for a Seth Rogen audience aging into parenthood. Good Christmas movies are few and far between, and while The Night Before is not likely to become a classic, it’s easily the funniest holiday movie since Elf.