Cody Clarke Reviews ‘The Night Before’


The Night Before (2015)
Dir. Jonathan Levine
Written by Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Evan Goldberg
101 min.


Caught a free advance screening of this last night. Just made it, in fact—the two people behind me were the last of the 250 or so admitted. And behind them, the line stretched far down the rest of the long Manhattan block and then back up alongside itself, kind of like what the snake in the game Snake sometimes has to do. I’d say at least as many didn’t get to see it as got to see it.

The line, and subsequent audience, was quite diverse—age and race all over the place, gender right down the middle. I’d assumed this would be an 18-35 white boy crowd, with maybe a smattering of dragged-along girlfriends who don’t mind a Seth Rogen vehicle here or there, but nope—it seems the combo of goofy and brash Rogen, boyish and sensitive Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and absurdly underrated and capable Anthony Mackie is a brilliant one, as far as widespread appeal.

Who knows what the actual demographic of paying customers will be, or what critics will think of the movie, or what the box office will be, but, if the crowd I saw it with is any indication, the word-of-mouth will be good, and this movie will be enjoyed by most who do see it. There was even a bit of applause at the end, which should not be construed to mean that some people will downright love this movie and that it’ll become a cult Christmas classic—it’s simply that this movie is so not-as-bad-as-you’d-think that, by the end, applause seems kinda justified.

As far as my own enjoyment with it, my expectations were low, and they were more than surpassed. I laughed during pretty much every scene I was supposed to, and I was touched by pretty much every scene I was supposed to be touched by. But, and maybe this is just me, but in my head, I kept hearing jokes, or tag lines to jokes, that should have been gone for but weren’t. Short sentences here and there that could’ve taken B scenes to A+ heights. And pretty much every scene suffers from this. Maybe the actors needed an Apatow, or an Adam McKay, or a David Gordon Green, shouting spur-the-moment new lines from behind the camera for them to say, as you often see in DVD bonus features. That certainly worked for Knocked Up, and Stepbrothers, and Pineapple Express. And who knows, maybe Jonathan Levine did in fact do that here. But whatever the case, it just feels like it wasn’t done, and as a result, the film’s comedic heights only go about ceiling level.

What Levine does excel at though is getting three-dimensionality out of his actors. The performances out of damn near everyone here are unusually good. Even people with only a handful of lines get across a level of depth that seems damn near impossible given the lines that they’ve been given. People really feel like people, which is refreshing, as so often movies of this ilk treat that as an afterthought, focusing too heavily on humor instead. And that’s one thing this movie has over the three I just mentioned—sure, those are better movies as far as pure enjoyment goes, but the characters in them seem flat by comparison, mere mouthpieces for jokes. And that really makes me wanna check out Levine’s previous work, of which I’ve seen none, and from what I understand are dramedies rather than comedies, so, less pressure to be funny, which probably works better for him.

The story itself is kinda simple, but clever. Essentially it’s just a three-guys trying-to-get-to-a-party plot, a la Superbad. But here, there isn’t really much standing in their way, and the stakes aren’t high. Sure, some problems occur along the way, but the problems are pretty small and surmountable. Which sounds like it could be dumb, or not exciting enough, but oddly enough, it kinda works—it leaves more room for interpersonal drama, and even allows for each of the characters to experience beats of internal drama as well.

Some of the story does feel quite forced though. There’s some Christmas Carol-esque past, present, future stuff that is tangental the plot and doesn’t really feel necessary. And there’s a scene where they shoehorn in an allusion to How The Grinch Stole Christmas that doesn’t really land or make sense at all. And the film itself is bookended by tongue-in-cheek storybook narration. It’s almost as though they—or likely, a studio exec—didn’t feel the script was Christmas-y enough, and requested another rewrite be done to make it more so.

Had the Christmas tree that is this film been less covered with random ornaments that clash and don’t belong, I do think this could’ve been somewhat of a classic. Not a watch-ever-year one like Elf or It’s A Wonderful Life (or one of my personal favorites, Holiday Affair with Robert Mitchum) but maybe one you could watch every few. As it stands, it’s a movie you probably don’t ever need to see more than once or twice, and don’t really need to see in theaters at all. But, if you’re in the mood to go with your family or friends to a holiday movie this year, you could do way worse. So fuck it, see it.

3 1/2 out of 5 Codys.

Smug Film Podcast Episode #2 – Movie Theaters (4/14/14)

1:11:24 | View on iTunes | Download Mp3

On this episode, I am joined by fellow Smug Film contributors Jenna Ipcar and Ned Martin. We discuss all things movie theaters—from our best and worst movie theater experiences, to the best theaters we’ve ever been to. As always, we go on tangents along the way, take a quick break for a movie joke by comedian Anthony Kapfer, and close the show with questions from our mailbag.

If you have a question for the show, leave it in the comments or email us at

If you enjoy the podcast, be sure to subscribe on iTunes, and leave a rating and a comment on there as well. Doing this helps us immensely as far as our ranking on there, which is what allows people to be able to discover us. Word of mouth is always best of all though, so spread the word!

By the way, the beautiful painting above is by artist Marianne Kuhn, and it is called Naro Cinema Norfolk VA. You can see the full painting and buy prints of it at FineArtAmerica.

Movie Stuff Referenced in this Episode:
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A Philosophical Examination of ‘Anchorman 2: The Super-Sized R-Rated Cut’


Anchorman 2: The Super-Sized R-Rated Cut (2014)
Directed by Adam McKay
Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
143 min. (24 min. longer than the original cut)

We’ve all read Greg’s great review of Anchorman 2. He breaks the film down on a mechanical level, getting to the heart of it by working through its raw material: its jokes.

It’s this raw material which has been replaced in this new version.

This isn’t the first time an alternate version of a film has seen theatrical release. Exorcist II and Heaven’s Gate were notoriously pulled from theaters and recut. I remember seeing The New World in New York in 2005, and when it got a wide release a few weeks later, it was about 10 minutes shorter. But unlike these films, the reason for Anchorman 2’s recutting is not because there was something ‘wrong’ with the original—the filmmakers here simply wanted to experiment with the possibilities of cinema.

This isn’t the first recut of an Anchorman movie. Wake Up, Ron Burgundy is an alternate cut of the first Anchorman, which Greg touched on in his review (and which we saw together after acquiring it from the wonderful and unfortunately long gone Kim’s Video of Bleecker Street). It was a direct-to-DVD release, and featured many different jokes, but the main difference was its integration of a completely discarded plot that revolved around a revolutionary terrorist cell robbing banks in San Diego (which was clearly deemed unsatisfactory, and reshot as the Panda Watch section of the original film). The film tries to weave a half-assed narrative out of these scraps, using some leftover jokes as the glue.

The new version of Anchorman 2, however, is not at all different in terms of plot. In fact, beat by beat, it’s the same. If you’re someone who only half-watches movies, you’d be forgiven by some for not thinking anything was different—but you wouldn’t be forgiven by me. The fabric of Anchorman is its jokes, and now, for once, the emperor really does have new clothes.

We may lose a couple great jokes from the original cut, replaced by weaker ones, but these weaker ones often serve as necessary setup for three great new ones that couldn’t have fit in otherwise. In any case though, it’s futile to compare and rate the jokes. Instead what is important and worthy of discussion is the space these jokes occupy. By this I mean the entire philosophical concept of switching one joke for another.
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My First Feature Film Is Almost Done


I’ve told this story a billion times so this time I’m going to try to include some more details.  When my late grandpa, Tom Easton, was ten years old, he saw Fantasia in the theater.  He always wanted to be a cartoonist but his dad was cold and distant and thought cartoons were for kids and no way to make a living.  But despite that lack of encouragement, Tom did some cool things.  He avoided combat in the Korean War by teaching art on base and drawing army posters.
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