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Seth Rogen's New Movie Avoids A Raunchy Comedy Cliché

The Night Before is wildly uneven, but it's poignant about what being a grown-up can mean for friendship.

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It's a nice, sly touch that Seth Rogen's pregnant wife is the one who provides the drugs that fuel the out-past-dawn adventures of The Night Before.

Her name is Betsy (played by Jillian Bell, the scene-stealing surly roommate in 22 Jump Street), and she doesn't come along on the Yuletide boys' night out that Isaac (Rogen) has spent with his besties Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) ever since the death of Ethan's parents 14 years prior. She doesn't seem to know all that much about illicit substances. But she gives her husband more than her blessing on the evening of debauchery: She gifts him with a box containing "every single drug in the whole world" (obtained from Craigslist) and sends him off to have fun and keep his friends company on a vulnerable holiday one last time before the baby comes.

No lectures, no evasive tactics, and he's the one who insists he'll probably be home early (Spoiler alert: He does not). The annual outing is coming to an end not because someone else is calling time on the hard partying, but because the guys themselves are after nearly 15 years of doing this. They have lives of their own now, or at least two of them do, and staying out all night loses a lot of its luster in your mid-thirties. Also, hey, it's Christmas — a night that, if you celebrate it (and Isaac is Jewish, but married to a gentile), is traditionally more about cozying up with loved ones than tearing it up in New York City.

Men-behaving-badly comedies like The Night Before have been slowly, thankfully, extricating themselves from the pattern of wives and girlfriends being treated as the finger-wagging end to everything fun, whether the intent is fond (as in Judd Apatow's pre-Trainwreck work) or disdainful (as in Todd Phillips's). Rogen's Neighbors screen partner Rose Byrne even had a Kevin James–citing meta moment in which she scolded his character for assuming she'd always be the adult in their relationship — "It’s offensive that I have to be the smart one all the time. I’m allowed to be just as irresponsible as you!"

The Night Before — which Jonathan Levine directed and wrote with Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Evan Goldberg — is a raucous comedy with a sweet soul that's tremendously uneven, wrestling to strike a balance between jokes and drama and to bridge the slack spots between some uproarious cameos and Rogen's (hilariously) sweaty, blitzed-on-everything antics. But there's a mournful poignance to its depiction of long-term friendship that comes from how its tensions about maturity have been internalized. Rather than deal with some external representative of time passing, the three have to contend with the ways in which their lives are taking them in different directions, and that their friendship may indeed last forever, but it can't remain as is.

It's an idea that twinges the heart more than any of the movie's planned pathos, which includes the recently-single Ethan's habit of using his parents' accident to keep commitments at arm's length; Chris's sudden, steroid-enabled pro-football fame; and Isaac's fears about his impending fatherhood. The Night Before doesn't develop any of these enough for them to land with impact (and Mackie's feels particularly undercooked throughout). But none of that matters when the movie is really rollicking: Isaac is contemplating his heteroflexibility while trading dick pics with a stranger, Ilana Glazer shows up as what's basically an evil version of her Broad City character, and Michael Shannon steals the show as an intensely deadpan, potentially magical drug dealer.

But it does sap the movie of momentum at the end, when everyone goes off to get a bow tied on their individual plot thread and to grow as people. Levine last paired Rogen and Gordon-Levitt in the cancer dramedy 50/50, a funny-sad tribute to a friendship weathering the most stressful of circumstances. The Night Before picks up in sentiment years after its characters have made their grand gestures of devotion and loyalty, when their bonds are facing a different sort of test — time. It's a test the movie flinches in the face of, though it's understandable that it opts for the nicer images of everyone together than the harsher truth that, no matter their history, three adults with little in common are a lot more likely to drift apart.

After all, hey, it's Christmas.

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