In the most simplistic sense, throw some bros and Christmas together and you have the The Night Before, Jonathan Levine’s latest bromedy. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie and Seth Rogen, the three are lifelong bros who, following a tragedy when they were kids, established a new Christmas Eve tradition: complete debauchery—getting wasted, eating chinese food, doing karaoke.
But 10 years later, Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) is still stunted, mired in adolescence, while Isaac (Rogen) is married and expecting a kid and Chris (Mackie) is a famous football player. So, they’re finally calling it—this is the last Christmas Eve celebration they are going to do, and it’s gonna be a blow out. Isaac’s wife has provided the drugs, Chris has provided all the rock star accoutrements and Ethan, well, he’s provided all the emo and stolen invites to the Nutcracker Ball, a holiday rager they’ve always wanted to attend.
Not that it’s unenjoyable, but The Night Before pretty much hits every beat you’d expect it to. A Christmas Carol-esque narrative threads the story, with Michael Shannon’s hilarious turn as a drug dealer acting as the vague Ghost of Christmas Past character. It’s packed to the brim with celeb cameos including Miley Cyrus, Ilana Glazer, a smattering of athletes and some unsurprising surprises if you’ve been paying attention to Rogen’s friend circle over the years (*cough* James Franco *cough*); It has the classic theme of all Rogen comedies in which the male characters are struggling to embrace adulthood and all the things that come with it. You’ll laugh, be grossed out, maybe get a tad emosh when Miley sings and everything, much like the bromedies of Rogen’s past, will be easily, happily tied up in the end.
It’s too aggressive to say that Rogen is washed because he’s far from it. But he is a little comfortable. He holds court in a very specific role—stunted stoner bro, growing up stunted stoner bro, father stoner bro, in their most natural habitats. And he’s good at it. He’s always pretty consistent, usually funny, generally solid all around. And he has tried branching out recently, taking on a more serious role as Steve Wozniak in the, um, general flop, Steve Jobs. But he was good! Christy Lemire, at RogerEbert.com, complimented how he played Woz “with great intelligence and pathos.”
His slow evolution into roles that seem to challenge his sturdy comedy skills promise a more interesting Rogen as he begins to out-age his twentysomething bro audience. So as we wait for Rogen’s next non-comedy role (2016’s Zeroville seems to be the one), what’s more interesting is what he’s doing behind the camera.
Rogen’s always been a writer—he first honed his skills on episodes of Undeclared and Da Ali G Show—and his first feature 2007’s Superbad, was something he wrote with longtime partner Evan Goldberg when they were 13 and finished at 15. It very much fits into Rogen’s wheelhouse: teens and obvious virgins Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have a wild night when Seth’s invited to crush Jules’ (Emma Stone) rager. It’s crude, sweet, and has surprisingly great female characters. After Superbad, Rogen had many more creating/writing comedy hits in stoner staples like Pineapple Express and This Is the End and a flop in The Green Hornet and a global rabble rouser (with mixed reviews) in The Interview. Again, much of everything he’s done has solidly fallen into his wheelhouse and he’s starred or at least appeared in most of what he’s written.
Rogen’s career thus far has been guided by comedy godfather, Judd Apatow, whom he first worked with on the now cult classic TV show, Freaks and Geeks. In interviews Rogen has stressed how important Apatow has been to his career (the two are obviously close friends). In a 2009 interview, Rogen mentioned what Apatow had taught him about comedy: “I don't know the secret to comedy, but one thing that Judd has taught me is that you should always start with an emotional story that isn't necessarily funny, but is believable, interesting and which you like a lot.” This sentiment can be seen throughout Rogen’s work—at the emotional core of the majority of his work, are bromances.
But as Rogen gets older, it’s interesting to wonder how his interests might shift. The Night Before seems to be a bit indicative of that, as was 2014’s Neighbors, where Rogen plays a new father living next door to a fraternity helmed by Zac Efron, desperate to cling to his “cool” but really unable to. He seems to be starting the growing process in making some different choices—he’s penning the sequel to Neighbors, and then there’s Sausage Party, a 3D animated “adult comedy” about an actual sausage.
He’s also producing at least six additional new projects. The biggest one, and perhaps the mark toward the maturation of Rogen, is 2016’s Preacher. Yes, Rogen, alongside his friend and writing partner Goldberg, is the one behind getting the beloved cult comic (Rogen’s long professed his love of sci-fi and comics) onto TV. He’s even directed the pilot with Goldberg. It’s a hugely high-profile and risky project that if it pays off, will pay off well and is a total departure from what he’s done thus far.
So could Rogen follow in the footsteps of his comedy mentor, Apatow? It seems very likely at this point, but while Apatow’s really maintained his lane of emotional comedy (for a lack of a better descriptor), it feels like Rogen really could be on the precipice of doing something really different from what he’s built his reputation on. We can only see Rogen’s bro stoner character for so long—luckily, he may be on the verge of proving that he’s got a whole lot more up his sleeve.