The Night Before Blu-ray Review

Levitt, Rogen, and Mackie pair for this lagging buddy comedy

The cast of The Night Before have a great time on set. Audiences might not since the fun doesn’t translate through the camera. Saturated with drug humor, either the series of bad mushroom and cocaine trips will connect or they won’t. Behind the ‘shrooms is a somewhat somber story (disconnected from the humor) about life changes. Modern comedies adore these sappy, “come together” stories. Thank Superbad.

Night Before patches itself together, as if filmed in various vignettes. Editing did the rest. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, and Seth Rogen work as a trio. Their Christmas Eve night-on-the-town through New York has spirit. They carry what limited material is offered and their improv games is strong.

Much of Night Before is a road trip movie taking place within a few clustered miles, the goal being an exclusive party at an unknown location. Levitt, Mackie, and Rogen maintain their character’s bond from childhood, acting in support of Levitt who has been caught in a decade-long spiral. Rogen and Mackie push and prod gently in an effort to move him forward, interrupted by mildly comedic happenstance. A handful of gags score, but the struggle is with bizarre tonalities. A Christmas cynic runs through the film’s veins. Drunken santas, charity thieves, dead people; it’s a downer.

A surge of energy enters into the third act. Arriving at the party destination, the movie gains renewed life. Night Before can lean on celebrity cameos, James Franco specifically taking his personality to an extreme. He did the same in This is the End. The joke hasn’t ceased.

Few – if anyone – will be surprised where Night Before ends.

Withdrawal sets in afterward. The buzz dies down while relationships and reality wiggle back into their lives. It’s appropriate, reflecting that snippet of time once the holiday rush is past. Few – if anyone – will be surprised where Night Before ends. Life circumstances beckon the crew for the entire film. This plot can only take them in one direction, even if this story does produce some awkward church vomit as a gross surprise.

Comedy’s form has changed. Night Before embodies the genre’s transformation, less a vessel to tell a story than it is to pack-in comedian cameos and riff on big name stars. There are numerous, “Look who it is!” moments, most of them lacking the zip needed to sustain their appearance. Casting is great – Lizzy Caplan and Jillian Bell are the perfect dry female counterparts compared to the idiocy of the men in their lives – but Night Before doesn’t surround key players with material. They’re entrusted to find the comedy. Each is capable, but the end product feels like a disjointed improv show.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

The Night Before Blu-ray screen shot 16

Digitally photographed with some New York stock footage (one quick shot clearly done on film, complete with print damage), the necessity of the disc’s black levels cannot be understated. They’re key to keep a majority of the feature appearing dense. So they do. Shadows are firm and respectful of shadow details while keeping a consistent richness.

On the flipside is a puffy contrast, blooming frequently. Faces glow, lights glow, everything glows. It’s obnoxious, as if Night Before is meant to be in some sort of dream state. Detail will be sucked from the frame by the cinematography. The haze can be dominating, loosening sharpness.

There remain scenes of excellent fidelity. Close-ups in Mr. Green’s (Michael Shannon) car rank up as the best here. Medium range scenes suffer. Arri Alexa XT-sourced images are battling low light situations. At least the noise is minimized. Note a few flashback scenes feature a digital grain filter.

Saturation bumps up primaries so Christmas lights and Christmas sweaters have plenty of energy. Flesh tones have appeal too.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Ye old 5.1 will suffice for this comedy, blaring bass as dictated by the soundtrack. A few tracks reach deep for impact. An early fireworks explosion will be the only use otherwise.

While the stretch to the stereos has a pleasant precision, the rest captures ambiance. Subways, bars, parties, and New York streets are kept sonically intact. An impromptu karaoke scene has some fun voice projection. Dialog manages to keep in balance. For the genre, there is more attention paid to the surroundings than is typical.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Making One Epic Party runs 20-minutes, the thickest of the bonuses which mostly spill out one-by-one needlessly. The best of this lot is Whale Juice, only three minutes, but all of Jillian Bell’s lines should have made the cut. If the short one minute gag reel seems disappointing, don’t worry – each bonus features a number of alt takes. Even eight minutes of deleted scenes contribute.

From there, five different sub-five minute featurettes are left, each focused on a specific scene or production quirk. Night Before was shot during the summer, creating some funny anecdotes about wearing all of the winter gear.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.