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New Year’s Eve
Directed by Garry Marshall
Screenplay by Katherine Fugate
Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Seth Meyers, Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Til Schweiger, Hilary Swank, Sofía Vergara
How long is New Year’s Eve? 118 minutes.
What is New Year’s Eve rated? PG-13 for language including some sexual references.
Rain Down, Mayan Apocalypse!
It is safe to predict that any further attempts by director Garry Marshall to cobble a legitimate genre out of celeb-stuffed holiday-themed rom-coms will probably face a cold audience. New Year’s Eve, is a very tired run up the same hill as its modestly successful ancestor, Valentine’s Day, and manages to recapture exactly none of that film’s charm or appeal. People well outside the Valentine’s Day target audience can still see what works about that movie. It was no gem, but it balanced earnest romantic comedy with a gentle spoofiness that we could all roll our eyes at and say, “Aww…” Irrepressibly cute is one way to describe it, and most people can get on board with that now and again.
New Year’s Eve chooses to fatten us, like doomed holiday geese, on bland sentimentality rather than sweet delicious comedy. It is not satisfying in the least, but you sure get your fill quickly. The allure of celebrating New Year’s Eve at Times Square or Radio City Music Hall is clear, but here, in place of an actual dramatic problem, it has been over-romanticized to life and death importance in the lives of these characters.
This is one of those interlocking domino tales in which each character has a pre-determined, unwavering path. Even when two plotlines intersect, there are no surprises. Everybody ends up exactly where, and with whom, we knew they would be fifteen minutes in. The jaded stock scenarios include Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigial Breslin sparring over how old is old enough to stay up ‘til midnight unsupervised, as well as Ashton Kutcher forging an odd-couple romance with Lea Michele over a day stuck in an elevator together. The less conventional stories, which are painfully contrived to revolve around the New Year’s celebration, feature such snoozers as a terminally ailing Robert de Niro who intends to redeem a life misspent by seeing the Times Square lighted ball drop one more time. Blecch! Tangential note: having cast his lot with Saw and (spoiler!) Saw 7, Cary Elwes is no longer allowed to play a doctor in any serious or non-threatening context. The world is simply not ready to swallow it yet.
Furthermore, Michelle Pfeiffer plays a mousy secretary who strikes up a friendship with spunky bike messenger Zac Efron on the condition he can make her unrealized New Year’s resolutions come true. Katherine Heigl and Jon Bon Jovi are, respectively, the caterer and featured musical act at the Times Square bash who, whilst entertaining the smarmy masses, learn to put their priorities straight and get back together. Hilary Swank shoulders a humorless leading role as a Times Square celebration coordinator who faces the end of the world unless the Dick Clark (ugh… I mean Ryan Seacrest) lighted ball functions properly. Hopefully Ludacris and Héctor Elizondo can help save the day. No, really. Finally, there is a categorically unfunny subplot in which two expectant couples compete to deliver the first baby of 2012. It’s supposed to be hilarious, I think.
Further tangential note: Jessica Biel, you’ve been working in Hollywood long enough to know things like “if you wear a pregnancy belly that appears to have been made by Nerf, don’t scrunch it constantly between your fingers!” That is the worst pregnant acting since Juliette Lewis in The Way Of The Gun.
Other recognizable faces who have some stake in the holiday are Halle Berry, Alyssa Milano, Larry Miller, Josh Duhamel, Cherry Jones, Common, Yeardley Smith, and the reliably bouncy Sofia Vergara. She is doing that one wonderful thing she does with all her heart, and emerges as one of the most tolerable aspects of the whole movie. Penny Marshall also appears, and good for her! You should now be forming a picture of a projected holiday hit with a huge star budget, rumbling through Hollywood like a juggernaut and summoning every actor who did not happen to have another project in the works that week. Presumably the cross-generation celebrity casting aims to throw every member of the family audience a bone. In truth, however, only the elderly, unhip, and easily shocked will find this movie the least bit amusing. And very few people are all three of these things anymore. Hip elderly people will be walking out of this movie in droves.
The script of New Year’s Eve is so toothless, so starved for wit and creativity, that the whole family can fail to enjoy it. Obviously, those responsible bypassed the option of cheap swears and sexual content for laughs to obtain a PG-13 rating. It may not have been a proud way to go, but making New Year’s Eve substantially raunchy might have been worth trying. If Jason Segel had written New Year’s Eve, people would have flocked to it and probably loved it. Of course, as The Muppets recently proved, it wouldn’t necessarily have been raunchy at all. It probably would have been heartfelt and clever. And perhaps about something funny and interesting.
A movie cannot stand upon recognizable celebrity faces alone. The novelty of spotting them wears off very quickly, particularly when the performers are getting so little exercise. If you’ve shamelessly dropped the dollars to hire a full cast of well-known stars, why not spend a little more to make them do something? Stanley Kramer’s 1963 comedy It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World succeeded not simply because it featured virtually every comedian working in Hollywood at the time, but because each one of them was working slapstick overtime. We need to get back to the days of actors who are entertaining because they actively entertain us, not simply because we are clever enough to recognize them. Hopefully, the box office numbers will justify this indignation and shame Garry Marshall back to his nobler roots. At very least, the number of nominally secular but universally popular holidays is limited. Furthermore, the titles Groundhog Day and Halloween are already taken.
Make no mistake. It would be a great honor to work for Garry Marshall, or at least it must have been for television actors in the 1970s. Many of the celebrities in this film have lowered themselves to worse, not least of all the great Robert de Niro, but each and every person in New Year’s Eve should feel a penitent itch of shame after wallowing in all that sap.