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‘The Night Before’ misses the mark

| Monday, November 23, 2015

NightBefore_Banner_WebLucy Du | The Observer

Last Thursday, I went solo to the AMC Showplace to see an early screening of “The Night Before.” I passed a poster of the film’s stars — Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie — posing like children above the film’s tagline: “Bringing Joy to the World.” A bit brash for my taste. Strike one.

Perhaps someone who will gladly see a movie by himself, who is hyper-critical of a film’s poster and who will dismiss audience members who laugh hysterically at previews for movies like “Dirty Grandpa” as subhumans is too cold-hearted and pretentious to enjoy Christmas movies. Then again, I did thoroughly enjoy “Die Hard.” Anyway, the last preview shown was for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which put me in an incredibly good mood. With John Williams’ compositions floating about my working memory, I was ready to enjoy anything thrown at me. Or so I thought.

If you’ve not seen the trailer, here’s the skinny. Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) was orphaned by a drunk driver the night before Christmas in 2001. Ethan’s besties, Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie), have taken him out for Christmas Eve on the town — New York, duh — ever since. Unfortunately for Ethan: Isaac and Chris are too busy starting families and cheating at football to hang out anymore, so this night before is to be the last night before, he just lost his job as a valet and he is coming off of a bad breakup with Diana (Lizzy Caplan). Hint: the whole orphan thing is the uber-reason for all of Ethan’s woes, though the film frequently delves into THC-induced fits of pop psychology in order to explain the characters’ oversimplified neuroses.

I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like the makings of a perfectly adequate coming-of-age story, suitable for viewing on an airplane or surrounded by drunken friends (or both). And you’d be right, if not for the film’s execution. Unfortunately for us, the committee of writers behind the most unfortunate movie this side of Lemony Snicket delivers not a tragedy-cum-comedy, but a sophomoric farce that appeals to eighth graders who would have giggled at my use of Latin. Worse yet is the film’s twisted ideology.

“The Night Before” is an unwelcome manifestation of the decay of society. (Hear me out.) The same decay Woody Allen griped about in “Manhattan,” but I’m sure even he never imagined the problem in its full magnitude. Allow me to explain.

A couple months ago, I accompanied my roommate on an impromptu road trip to Ohio State University, where we attended a surprise party for one of his high school friend’s 21st birthdays. The weekend was a blast, but I was troubled by my roommate’s motivations behind the trip. “Doug is going to remember this forever,” he waxed. “It’s going to be so legendary when we roll in and surprise him; we’ll talk about this forever.” His sentiment was sincere, but his primary concern being curating some epic memory, rather than simply experiencing a great weekend with his friend, seemed to miss the mark. “The Night Before” echoes this sentiment, as its leads frantically dart around New York in an effort to “hit” as many of their Christmas Eve traditions in as little time as possible. This pursuit of pre-packaged experiences feels like a spiritual sibling to the canned nostalgia of incessant Instagram posts, the misuse of words like “legendary” and “epic” and the appropriation of the word “throwback.”

An even greater marker of decay is the film’s glorification of party culture. Our three amigos steal tickets to the Nutcracker Ball, New York’s most exclusive Christmas Eve party, and the film is mostly concerned with documenting their antics — smoking, drinking and bad decisions — on the way to the mysterious banger. This fixation on a journey is storytelling in its oldest form, and one can never quite tell if our voyagers are takes on Aeneas or Luke Skywalker. A case could be made for Odysseus as their principle archetype, as the trio’s arrival at the Nutcracker Ball is played like an overdue homecoming. Isn’t that rather startling?

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