What follows ping-pongs the viewer between drug trips and personal recrimination, karaoke performances and failed marriage proposals. In this fashion, The Night Before vacillates between hilarity and pathos, though the former is more successful than the latter. I would never argue against someone that has found Rogen grating, as that's a hard point to dispute, but as an outwardly successful man driven to barely-contained panic by encroaching life changes, his sweaty discomfort and mind-altered rantings make for one of his funnier performances. Loaded with cameos from actors as varied as Michael Shannon, Ilana Glazer, and (of course) James Franco, Levine's and Goldberg's (plus two other writers) script finds gag lines for most of them, and despite the quantity, the film doesn't feel overstuffed.
When the film isn't wondering about the proper response to a drop of blood that has fallen into a martini glass, it's heavily interrogating the friendship of the main characters. Most importantly, JGL, Rogen, and Mackie are able to convince the viewer of their character's friendships through lived-in moments like Ethan and Chris sitting cross-legged playing Goldeneye while Isaac watches from the bed. There is a long history that is effectively communicated, such that when there are the inevitable storm-offs and tirades, there's no doubt that things will return to normal. Each of the main characters gets their own personal journey of realization, and the combined goal is less the rejuvenation of a decaying ritual and more growing to the point where that ritual becomes less necessary. There's a thread of accepting the progression of time, something not expected in a film marketed as a juvenile romp through NYC at Christmas.
Levine's The Night Before gets too heavy in places, but the overall package is continuously funny while also containing the recognizable moments necessary to ground any film. The aforementioned Goldeneye tableau is joined by things like non-Catholics being baffled by the stage direction of a Catholic service and the broad structure of the difficulty in trying to hold friends together as everyone gets older. Levine continues to brand himself as the man to call when a comedy could use some heart, even if the bones are strong enough to not need it.