New Year’s Eve
2011 • 118 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
Of the winter holidays, New Year’s Eve is the most refreshingly secular. After we’ve all been run ragged by familial and religious obligations (look, I adore my werewolf niblings, but they eat up a lot more energy than I’m used to!), it’s a holiday perfect for revelry or reflection. Even the major tradition is resolving to improve your habits, which is rather vague and, let’s face it, easily ignored.
But that same refreshing secularity has made New Year’s Eve almost impervious to the holiday special. If It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Miracle on 34th Street are meant to teach us the true meaning of Christmas (goodwill towards your fellow man, even if they’re related to you, and presents, obviously), then the stumbling block for New Year’s Eve is obvious: the true meaning of New Year’s Eve is that it’s New Year’s Eve. Upon this tautology, no film can be built.
Although that’s not for lack of trying; there are actually a fair amount of films on Wikipedia’s list of films set on or around New Year’s. But that’s kind of like calling Die Hard a Christmas movie: technically accurate, but deeply missing the point. Into this void, then, steps Gary Marshall’s New Year’s Eve, serving up the sloppy seconds to his own Valentine’s Day, itself an obvious riff on Love Actually, albeit without, according to British film critic Sady Doyle, the charm. I myself have not seen Valentine’s Day, but the Flop House episode about the film probably pretty much sums up how I’d experience it. But at least Valentine’s Day is about (commercialized heteronormative romantic) love, which offers up a myriad of tried, true, and trite conflicts to fill a film with.
New Year’s Eve cheats by having four of its eight (!) storylines revolve around romance—although the fourth, wherein Sarah Jessica Parker tries to find daughter Abigail Breslin after the latter has run away to go kiss a boy in Times Square at midnight, at least makes the effort of having the romance be tangential to the core conflict. Two storylines take place in a hospital—two sets of expecting parents vie to win the bonus that comes with birthing the first child of the new year (fine, whatever) while Robert De Niro dies slowly upstairs—and the remaining two focus on the ball drop itself and a woman’s New Year’s resolutions.
It feels like someone pulling out a notebook full of story ideas, randomly grabbing eight, and struggling to fit them together. New Year’s Eve is not a short film, at just under two hours, but it would take a film twice that length to give these stories and characters enough breathing room to feel distinguishable from one another. As is, watching this film feels like you’re compulsively switching the channel between eight different Lifetime movies. Until I wrote this review, I had no idea that the hospital storylines took place in the same hospital. (Largely because I eventually gave up and started praying for Halle Berry to smother Robert De Niro.) And given how charismatic the individual assembled stars of this frankly shockingly star-studded cast are, it feels so strange that this film seems expressly structured to dim their wattage and distract the viewer.
The only storyline that feels remotely fresh and vital, is, oddly enough, the only story expressly about an actual New Year’s tradition—the story of Ingrid, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Taken for granted at work for decades, Ingrid finally finds it within herself to quit. Flush with strange victory, she hires Zac Efron’s Paul to fulfill her list of long-delayed New Year’s resolutions in a single day. When Paul protests, she tells him to get creative, and he does. And it’s, honestly, kind of magical, watching them zoom around New York as Paul comes up with clever solutions to her resolutions and they slowly but surely begin to crush on each other. What elevates it from a subpar Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day riff are Pfeiffer and Efron, who play off each other wonderfully. Pfeiffer plays Ingrid not as a sad or dour woman, but as deeply odd and brittle. (I especially like that, probably due to time constraints, dowdy Ingrid isn’t given a makeover; at most, Ingrid puts on a childishly girly headband and a nice dress to go dancing.) And Paul is one of those darn Millennial bros, but he clearly relishes the challenge, apologizes when he accidentally insults her, and clearly has a great time with her. When the credits devolve into an ensemble dance party, Ingrid’s awkward dancing and Paul’s exuberance are just infectious.
I’m kind of bummed that it’s crammed into such a sloppy film instead of fleshed out as its own feature. Of course, the chances that a Michelle Pfeiffer/Zac Efron romance that wasn’t a dumb joke about cougars would sell is nil these days, so perhaps I should be happy I got it at all. At least, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we’ll always have New Year’s Eve.
I rented this DVD from the public library.