Three great friends will become three wise men
From Jonathan Levine, the acclaimed director of 50/50, comes the new comedy The Night Before, which he directed from a story he wrote, and screenplay he co-wrote with Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir and Evan Goldberg.
In the film, three great friends become three wise men after a night of debauchery and breaking all the rules. It takes place on Christmas Eve, when Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have made a pact to spend the evening together – a tradition they have replayed each of the last ten years.
According to Rogen, it’s important that the movie takes place at Christmas. “At first, we thought we would just make a movie about people going out on Christmas and they party and get messed up and it’s funny,” he says. “Later, we realized that Christmas has this inherent emotional weight to it, and why not indulge in that?”
In that sense, the film’s co-writer/director, Jonathan Levine, says he was inspired to make a film that would follow in the footsteps of certain genres, but become unlike any other movie.
“I wanted to make a New York movie, a hangout movie, and play with the stylistic elements of a Christmas movie, and play with the rules of the genre. We got to make a movie that was very grounded on one level, but also contained elements of magical realism. But the really cool thing about making a holiday movie is your number one mandate is to make people happy,” he says.
One other way Levine gives the R-rated movie a Christmas vibe is though music, with nostalgic Christmas classics like “Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Christmas in Hollis,” and “Oh, Holy Night,” as well as Darlene Love’s renditions of “All Alone on Christmas” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and My Morning Jacket’s performance of “Please Come Home for Christmas” playing in counterpoint to the wild night out, grounding the movie with familiar sounds.
Levine adds that the film is inspired in part on his own experiences. “I used to do something like this with my friends in New York at Christmas,” says Jonathan Levine.
“It’s a weird time to be out, especially in New York City, because you stumble upon little enclaves of people and weird stuff always seems to happen. It’s like a secret club of people who would just go out on Christmas – and that gave me the idea for the movie.”
So Levine and his co-screenwriters (the screenplay is by Jonathan Levine and Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir & Evan Goldberg, from Levine’s story) make full comedic use of a Christmassy New York: from the big piano (where Kanye West’s “Runaway” gets a new rendition) to the tree at Rockefeller Center to Tompkins Square Park, The Night Before takes our heroes up and down the city before winding up at the legendary Nutcracka Ball – the ne plus ultra of New York holiday parties.
Levine says that he was inspired to approach the project during the post-production of 50/50, his highly acclaimed film that also teamed Gordon-Levitt and Rogen. “We had a great experience together on that movie,” he says. “I told them I had an idea: every year at Christmas, you’ll see the same Christmas movies and TV shows. There’s always new Christmas music coming out, but not a Christmas movie – at least, not one geared toward young adults – in a very long time.”
“One of the reasons why I think 50/50 is so good is that it combines a dirty sensibility with a very emotional one,” says Rogen.
“Jonathan is definitely willing to embark into more emotional areas that Evan and I – well, it’s just not our instinct to go in that direction. The Night Before is definitely more of a straight-out comedy than 50/50, but it is similar – it truly is a Christmas movie, and it has everything that people expect from a Christmas movie, but it also truly is an R-rated comedy.”