(On Cable TV, July 2016) By this time in his career, Seth Roger has such a defined persona that “Seth Rogen does a Christmas movie” is enough to suggest a fairly accurate picture of The Night Before. We’re going to see crudeness (especially penile jokes), copious drug use, dumb jokes, a paean to male friendship and some anxiety about (finally) growing up. Roughly half of Rogen’s movies in the past ten years have played variations on the same themes and this latest one isn’t any different. For all of the emotional scaffolding about three friends wondering whether their Christmas traditions are holding them together or holding them back, this is really an excuse for Christmas-themed drug jokes and assorted shenanigans. It does work reasonably well, but usually thanks to the actors more than the jokes themselves. Joseph Gordon Lewitt, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, and, yes, Seth Rogen all bring something extra to their roles even when they’re just doing what they usually do best. (Well, that’s not exactly true for Michael Shannon, who seems to be enjoying himself in a coarser role than usual.) Mindy Kaling, Ilana Glazer, James Franco and Miley Cyrus also show up in small but striking roles. Some of the comic set-pieces work well enough, and the film’s conclusion is just as gooey-reassuring as we’d like in a Christmas movie. As far as holiday classic go, The Night Before aspires to a place alongside Harold and Kumar’s 3D Christmas and Bad Santa, which isn’t terrible company when the syrupy nature of year-end celebrations becomes a bit too much to bear. “Seth Rogen does Christmas movie” it is, then.
(Video on Demand, June 2013) The success of raunchy female-centric Bridesmaids has (sadly?) led to the realization that there was a market out there for crude R-rated comedies featuring uncouth damsels rather than frat-minded bros. This makes it easier for films like Bachelorette to be marketed: suggest that it’s kind-of-like The Hangover and Bridesmaids and, voila, instant interest. Fortunately, Bachelorette is a bit better than this capsule marketing tactic. Yes, it’s about a trio of disrespectable female leads doing bad things while on a wild night in town. But it’s written with quite a bit more wit than most comedies out there, and it dares takes chances with characters that aren’t made to be liked. Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher do great work here, and Rebel Wilson adds another good performance to a short but impressive list. What’s perhaps just as interesting are the subtle background choices made by writer/director Leslye Headland: A significant portion of the film takes place in a working strip club, for instance, and yet no nudity is shown. The male characters are interestingly flawed and don’t overshadow the female leads. This shouldn’t be revolutionary stuff, but in today’s comedy-film scene is almost feels as if it is. Offbeat without being disgusting, Bachelorette is worth a look for those looking for a bit of wit to go along their unglamorous comedies.