by Ryan Anderson (@)
“The Night Before,” now in theaters, is very funny for much of its running time before undercutting its own subversiveness with a traditional, cliched, happy ending.
But, before reaching its treacly conclusion, “The Night Before” threatens to join dark, irreverent holiday classics like “Bad Santa.”
The parents of Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) both are killed in a car accident when he’s a teenager, but his best friends, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), ride to his rescue by taking him out for an evening of debauchery to take his mind off the tragedy and prevent Christmas from being ruined for him. Naturally, it becomes a tradition, as the three venture out in New York City every Christmas Eve for misrule that would make Caligula blush.
Alas, 14 years after their first Christmas Eve of merriment, the tradition is set to end, as two of the three grow into adulthood and responsibility. Isaac and his wife are about to have a baby, and Chris has become a major football star (with the aid of steroids). They no longer wish to engage in the risque ritual, even though Ethan remains in a state of arrested development–he’s just lost the love of his life because he refused to meet her parents, he’s a penniless singer/songwriter who makes music no one ever hears, and Chris and Isaac remain his only real family.