These movies must be really easy to write. You know the kind. They’ve got a countless number of tangentially-related stock characters portrayed by typecast actors (saves time normally spent on characterisation!) who make eyes at each other, profess their love in the most clichéd ways imaginable, and, on occasion, clumsily fall over and spout the “wh-wh-whooah” sound effect on their way down. The only thing simpler than scripting such a film would be penning a snarky review with a ‘bah humbug’ attitude to the time-proven and much-loved cinematic stereotypes. So, in the spirit of new beginnings, snark is what I shall try to avoid in my critique of Garry Marshall‘s New Year’s Eve. Also, I’ll stop calling it a ‘critique’, because this piece ain’t gonna get deep anytime soon.
New Year’s Eve is something of a spiritual sequel to Marshall’s Valentine’s Day, in that it similarly takes place over 24 hours, follows numerous romantics, and prominently features Hector Elizondo (see also: every Garry Marshall movie). The sheer number of individual plot-threads are too voluminous to recall, but let me spit at you the most notable ones in a manner that is only slightly clumsier than the way in which it is done in the pic: Hilary Swank plays a lovelorn woman charged with organising the midnight ball-drop at Times Square; Josh Duhamel is travelling across the country to fulfil a year-long promise of a rendezvous with a mystery lady; Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele wind up stuck in an elevator together; flaky Michelle Pfeiffer asks for courier Zac Efron‘s help in completing her New Year’s resolutions; Sarah Jessica Parker frets about her daughter, Abigail Breslin, growing up too soon; Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers compete with Sarah Paulson and Til Schweiger to give birth to the first baby of 2012. And so on into infinity.
Though the screenplay is inane – some of Katherine Fugate’s dialogue is abominable – New Year’s Eve coasts on the easy charm of its stars. How can one not enjoy the company of Efron and Pfeiffer? Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigail Breslin’s storyline is engaging because it’s pretty much the only one with any dramatic thrust. Also, there’s an inherent pleasure in seeing Saturday Night Live‘s Meyers go head to head with Inglourious Basterd Schweiger, just because it’s so very strange. Finally, I must admit I welled up during the revelatory conclusion of nurse Halle Berry‘s side-story; it’s cloying, but dammit, the scene gets the job done.
Still, would it have been too much to ask that Marshall and Fugate provide us with a couple of surprises? Each mini-tale feels undercooked; that’s what happens when everyone gets about five minutes of screen time (and why Robert Altman‘s brilliant Nashville is three hours long). Every groan-inducing joke feels so lazily constructed. I’m not sure why the personality-free Marshall has become the go-to-guy for these ensemble flicks. Is he the only one in Hollywood who knows how to cut together a kissing-montage to a Pink song? Does he hold the patent on old ladies with foul mouths? Could nobody else convince a screen legend like Robert De Niro to star in a lightweight rom-com? Oh yeah, Robert De Niro’s in this too. So is Katherine Heigl. They have been left at the end of this review for a reason.
New Year’s Eve arrives in Australian cinemas December 8, 2011.