If you’ve ever wondered how the Christmas film classic It’s a Wonderful Life might have turned out had it been heavily dosed with amphetamines, your wait is over. Co-written and directed by Jonathan Levine, The Night Before – an interdenominational tale of three 30-something lads who haven’t quite manned up – uses magic realism to punctuate their motor-mouthed journey towards adulthood.
The spirit of IAWL’s George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is now personified by three childhood friends: Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie). Fourteen years earlier, Ethan’s parents died, and his two best buddies became his replacement family. To fill Ethan’s emotional void, they created a Christmas Eve tradition of juvenile hanging out. Now, however, with Isaac and his wife (Jillian Bell) expecting their first child, the trio plans to make this final night-before ritual truly memorable. How can it not be, when Ethan – he’s still grieving over having been dumped by his girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan) for not taking their relationship to the next level – has stolen tickets to a secret-destination holiday party, the Nutcracka Ball, whose location has eluded the guys all these years.
The three men are flawed. Abandonment-phobic Ethan is terrified of committing to the love of his life. Isaac fears impending fatherhood. And Chris, an over-the-hill athlete, has begun taking steroids to bolster a superficial self-image. They’re all destined to meet up with Mr. Green (Michael Shannon, priceless), the drug dealer for the boys when they were in high school, and who serves as this film’s Clarence-as-angel-in-training.
Despite its entourage of cameos, pratfalls and bonhomie, The Night Before has a serious core that explores self-identity, authenticity, parenting and partnership. The challenge, after doing the Saturnine work, is achieving the balls of manhood, Nutcracka or not. Three Wise Men, indeed.
Archetype: Friendship. Adulthood. Wisdom. Self-Identity.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ (Saturn)