The Night Before

It was a balmy September afternoon when I left my house to visit the Queens, New York set of Jonathan Levine‘s The Night Before, on the second to last day of a 35-day shoot. But when I got there, I was greeted with a scene that looked like Christmas on steroids, replete with colorful lights, harried shoppers, and of course, ugly sweaters.

Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie were prancing around a fake Manhattan toy store (don’t call it FAO Schwarz), performing Kanye West’s “Runaway” on an enormous Big-style keyboard. If you’ve seen the trailer for the film, you’re likely familiar with the scene, which has already “instant classic” written all over it.

In between takes, Levine, his cast, and more clued us in on their R-rated entry into the Christmas movie canon. Get the full report from our The Night Before set visit after the jump. 

The Story

The Night Before follows three childhood friends ready to close the book on a holiday tradition. For over a decade, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have reunited every Christmas Eve for a night of debauchery. But adulthood looms: Isaac’s about to become a father, Chris is a famous athlete moving onto the next stage in his career, and Ethan… well, Ethan’s still adrift.

The three men come together for one last night of partying, with the ultimate goal of attending the legendary, super-exclusive Nutcracka Ball. “It is their kind of white whale,” said Levine. As the night goes on the party takes on an almost mythic quality, with each man seeing it, in a way, as the solution to his problems.

And while the Nutcracka Ball isn’t quite that, it does earn its epic reputation. “It’s Burning Man meets Coachella meets Tron” is how producers Evan Goldberg and James Weaver describe it. Simply getting into the party is “almost an adventure movie” in itself, as the guys go on what is essentially a scavenger hunt to get invites.

The Night Before

The Christmas Canon

The Night Before fits into a long tradition of Christmas movies, and Levine and his team readily pulled from them for The Night Before. The references ranged from the obvious (It’s a Wonderful Life, Love, Actually, the Home Alones) to the offbeat (Die HardKiss Kiss Bang Bang) to the downright outrageous (“Basically our main visual reference is Eyes Wide Shut, and a little bit of Bringing Out the Dead,” said Levine).

“What’s nice about making a Christmas movie is you get to hang your hat on a lot of known Christmas tropes,” said Goldberg. “There are certain things people expect at Christmas. They expect a little magic. They expect a family. They expect Santa Claus. There are some of these things that we embrace a vision of, and deliver a version of that, but we’re going to do it in an R-rated sort of crazy version, essentially.”

“There is a void when it comes to Christmas movies aimed at our generation and just generally the type of [Christmas] movie that people like us would go see” noted Rogen. The Night Before aims to fill that void, drawing from Levine’s real-life tradition of Christmas Eve debauchery. “It’s for people who aren’t served by the traditional Christmas movie or the traditional family structure,” explained Levine.

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