What do you get when you add drugs, endless Christmas movie references, and a trio of oddball best friends? What you get is a Christmas comedy that doesn’t want to admit it would have been better as a lighthearted dramedy. Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Anthony Mackie take on Christmas Eve for the final time as best buds before their diverse lives take them to new chapters in a life narrated by Tracey Morgan – yes I meant Tracy Morgan – and is harmonized with some Run-DMC and Miley Cyrus?
Tis the season for Christmas comedies trying to make their way into “seasonal traditions” but this missed the mark by about 20 feet. A talented cast bring us a diverse mixture of humor and emotional depth while bringing all of their well known charms and talents to the film. JGL plays Nathan, a musician living in New York trying to make his way in the world. With he and his two best friends (Mackie and Rogen) celebrating a night of debauchery every Christmas Eve in honor of Nathan’s deceased parents. Together, they search for the holy grail of Christmas parties in New York City known as the Nutcracker Ball in a drug induced panic on what the future brings for the three of them after the nights end. With Mackie portraying a football star, Rogen being a Jewish lawyer, and Levitt portraying a musician, they fulfill every funny stereotype all in a couple hours with no remorse.
Where the film stalls is at what comedies need to succeed at most and that is making us burst out laughing. If anyone was to make you burst out in laughter at this film it’s a few scenes with Michael Shannon as a weed dealer named Mr. Green and his roles of weed dealer and wise man. Shannon takes his serious demeanor and does some comedic damage as the unflinching weirdo that is Mr. Green. I have to believe that if the film took the humor route that was in the Shannon scenes, I am convinced this would have been a whole different film entirely. The tones of the comedy and the drama were too extreme for one another to mesh as one and in viewing the film, you will realize that there is material here for a less over the top film like it was, and would have served best as either a light tempered comedy or just a drama with some comedic elements. I think of Rogen and Levitt’s film 50/50 as a comparison if they went the dramedy route.
The humor that did hit on target were the Seth Rogen scenes whenever he was high. Even if his shtick is the same, it’s effective, and the lunacy that follow him through the night are also highlights of the film. With cameos from some respected comedians, this was a classic depiction of a new age comedy. Rather than having the lead men or women take charge of their own film, it was a reliance on others around those supporting characters that made for the film to be great. Mackie I found was flat and a bit of an annoying character – thankfully that is done on purpose – but what he brings as the token black athlete friend make for some surprisingly honest depictions of celebrity, family, and the digital age serving as somewhat of an egalitarian once the film ends. Mind you, it’s not as serious as that sounds, but that’s what kind of happens.
Where the film would have been great as a Christmas genre is seen through scenes of Levitt being comforted by his friends in either flashback scenes pivotal moments in the story and the lessons he learns from people around him are what drive his character as well as his friends to change who they are for the better or for the worse. Think of a comedic version of Scrooge mixed with the Nativity Story mixed with Die Hard and that is more or less the plot of the story, give or take some themes of family, insecurity, and fears of parenthood.
I give this film for trying, but the direction in which it was trying to go became scattered as often as its chuckles and comedy scenes and felt more like a dramedy masquerading as a comedy with some depth and it’s a shame they didn’t figure it out sooner because I am convinced this would have been a whole different review. It brings the spirit of Christmas to life early in the season for us adults and does remind us why we celebrate the holidays like we do and who are the people worth sharing the days and nights with and that is what is the most important part about this movie. It’s worth seeing with your best friends if you are too chicken too see Krampus that opened last weekend.