The Night Before is not coy with its intentions: It's here to become a Christmas classic, the movie you watch every year. Except with Seth Rogen leading the way, it's not exactly something the whole family will watch together. It's for those who prefer marijuana to mistletoe, karaoke to carols, and sex with strangers to — I don’t know — there's no PG version of that. The big surprise, though, is that The Night Before, which hits theaters this Friday, is more than a cold winter night warmed by binge-drinking. It's the Christmas you know, not the one you wish you did. It makes you happy. It makes you nostalgic. And while it probably won't make you want to call your family, it will make you want to call your friends. This is thanks in large part to the cast — Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling, Ilana Glazer, and Jillian Bell never hurt anything they were in — but even more to its writer and director, Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies, The Wackness), and his own love of the holidays. “I’m the person who’s psyched as soon as the radio stations start playing Christmas carols,” he tells me in the middle of the movie's press day. “I’ll never complain that it’s too early.”
It’s a love passed down from his mother who would play Christmas music, decorate a tree, and put presents underneath it every year all so his family could not really celebrate. Because there was just one catch: His family is Jewish. "Christmas Jews" is the technical term Levine uses, and as much as he loved working the Hanukkah and Christmas angles when it came to gifts, he found there was little to do after the last one was opened. So he began rounding up whatever friends were around — friends whose parents were divorced, friends whose parents were away, and friends who wanted to escape their own families — for a night out. In his ugliest sweater and only Santa hat, he created a tradition that was not complete without a Chinese restaurant, a karaoke bar, a crowded bar on an empty street, and most likely a call to his high-school drug dealer. It was magical.
It became like a secret club that's true appeal was only understood by its unofficial members. The holidays are an emotional time, says Levine. People are in a party mood, but they're also in a reflective mood, which is an interesting combination. "I just always remember walking home as the sun was coming up and seeing my breath," he says. "I always drank too much, but I also made a really strong connection with friends." Unlike the movie, the tradition ended without a bang. There was no big blowout, no last hurrah, and no Miley Cyrus duet (though to be clear, Levine would be 100% down). It just sort of ended as everyone grew up and moved away. Now at 39 with a family of his own, he sees The Night Before as really being about friendship. "The older you get, the more important it is to stay close with your friends," he says. And, really, isn't that what the holidays are about, too?