New Year’s Eve
Release Date: December 9, 2011
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Katherine Fugate
Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The opening lines of the traditional New Year’s Eve song “Auld Lang Syne” poses the question: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” New Year’s Eve is hoping that the answer is no and that your fondness for old acquaintances – namely well-known actors and well-worn plotlines – will be enough to sell you on the film. But sadly, this whole affair would best be forgotten.
The biggest problem with the film is that the storyline is a collection of the hackiest and most tired sitcom storylines. There’s the guy and girl trapped in an elevator together (Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele). There’s the rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) who is pining for the girl he left behind (Katherine Heigl). There are two sets of parents-to-be (Seth Meyers/Jessica Biel and Sarah Paulson/Til Schweiger) who get over-competitive about who will have their child first. There’s the dying man (Robert De Niro) who is alone and filled with regret. There’s the handsome, successful guy (Josh Duhamel) pining away for the stranger he met last year on New Year’s Eve. There’s a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) with an unfulfilled list of things she’d like to accomplish. There’s a single mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is hurt that her teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) would rather spend New Year’s with her friends instead of her. Throw in Sofía Vergara playing a sassy, over-the-top Latina and a completely unnecessary “soldier stuck spending New Year’s in Iraq” plotline and you have one of the most unapologetically clichéd films I’ve seen in a long time.
Of course, the tired tropes wouldn’t be so bad if the film found a new way to explore them. But instead it goes for the easy jokes and the most obvious conclusions to the stories. The only attempt the film makes to be clever is by connecting these seemingly unrelated storylines in unexpected ways – having characters end up being related to each other or having them end up at the same location at the same time. (And, of course, once Josh Duhamel’s “girl that got away” plot is introduced, you just know that one of the featured actresses with her own separate storyline is going to end up being that woman.) Their attempts at unexpected connections are not nearly as clever at they think they are though and most of them come off feeling quite forced.
Worst of all, the jokes in the film just fall flat. Sofía Vergara has gotten great mileage out of playing Gloria on Modern Family, but the writing in New Year’s Eve is nowhere near as clever as it is in that show, so her character Ava comes off as a pale imitation. Larry Miller tries to make the most of his brief cameo as a sarcastic tow truck driver, but he’s only able to do such much. Everyone else in the film is hampered either by lackluster material or bad comedic timing.
Sadly, the most enjoyable part of the film was the closing credits, which featured a gag reel that was much funnier than the film itself. De Niro got several big laughs in the gag reel simply goofing around on the set, breaking character from his overly melancholy “dying cancer patient filled with regret” storyline. The rest of the cast shined in the gag reel as well. These are talented actors who, when left to their own devices, are a joy to watch. I couldn’t help thinking that director Garry Marshall would have been better off tossing out the script and simply letting these talented people improvise their scenes.
Instead, most of these actors seem like they are on autopilot, simply collecting an easy paycheck. Hilary Swank gives the most engaging performance in the film, playing Claire Morgan, the woman in charge of making sure the ball drops in Times Square at midnight. Swank makes the character more charming and nuanced than she should be and manages to somehow make a rather clichéd speech seem heartfelt and genuine. The rest of the performances are fair to middling (though Zac Efron deserves special mention for giving what is easily most grating performance in the film).
Jon Bon Jovi and Lea Michele do have a few fun musical numbers and Bon Jovi is actually a better actor than I thought he’d be. Though it is amusing that his rock star character Jensen doesn’t actually have any original songs and instead sings well-known cover tunes. And the resolution to his storyline is perhaps the most ridiculous and unbelievable in the film.
This is a bad film. There’s no reason to pay eight bucks to see a collection of stories you’ve already seen (done better) before. So if your New Year’s resolution is to stop wasting money on pointless crap, perhaps it’s best to get an early start and just skip this film altogether.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.