Once a year, the world holds its breath as the stars align for a single purpose. It brings together rich and poor, the famous and the not so famous and children sing a song in perfect harmony. That moment is, of course, the release of a new Garry Marshall film. One of the more insidious trends over the last few years has been the hyperlinked romantic comedies that throw a whole lot of celebrities at the screen for five minutes at a time, hoping that for what the films lack in depth they will make up for in volume. Last year’s Valentine’s Day was Marshall’s first foray into the this type of film, following the world that He’s Just Not That Into You created, and now the same creative team behind Valentine’s Day has reunited to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.
It’s New Year’s Eve 2011, and Claire (Hilary Swank) is in charge of the festivities at New York’s Time’s Square, including the famous ball drop. Things go wrong when the ball gets stuck. Meanwhile, record company secretary Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) quits her job, and enlists young deliveryman Paul (Zac Efron) to help her fulfil all of her resolutions before midnight, in return for tickets to an exclusive party. At a nearby hospital, the dying Stan (Robert De Niro) refuses treatment from his doctor (Cary Elwes) and two nurses (Halle Berry and blink-and-you’ll miss her Alyssa Milano), but wants desperately to see the ball drop one last time before he croaks.
Then there’s slacker Randy (Ashton Kutcher) who gets stuck in a lift with Elissa (Lea Michele), who is in turn a back-up singer for superstar Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), a man who simply wants to reconnect with former lover and chef Laura (Katherine Heigl). Sam (Josh Duhamel) rushes to get to New York to give a speech, but is also angst ridden over meeting up with a woman he had a chance encounter with the year before. Griffin (Seth Meyers) and Tess (Jessica Biel) compete with another couple to have the first baby of the New Year for a cash prize, and Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) struggles with her adolescent daughter Hailey (Abigail Breslin), who just wants to be snogged.
Or: a group of people with intersecting lives do things on New Year’s Eve.
The formula for New Year’s Eve was set in stone long before the cameras rolled, and for most people this film will do exactly what it promises: engender good feelings towards the people that you see immediately after the screening, but create an empty feeling that can only be filled with more rom-coms. As can be gleaned from the plot description, for want of a better phrase, there is little room for character detail for any of these people, even in the bloated two-hour running time, with their New Year’s revelations and warm fuzzies a foregone conclusion.
Each of the stories could fill its own film, such as Sam’s road trip with a random family (that includes Yeardley “Lisa Simpson” Smith), and some work better than others. It would have been genuinely fun to spend more time with Ashton Kutcher, but not so much Glee’s Lea Michele, and there are some nice moments in the Efron/Pfeiffer subplot. Yet any film where Zac Efron’s performance outshines Pfeiffer (who incidentally is one of two Catwomen in the film, the other being Halle Berry), has serious problems. The sheer number of stars is of course unnecessary, and virtually anybody could have played these roles. It goes without saying that this is a cynical marketing tool, but New Year’s Eve is a film where the cogs are clearly visible.
If Hollywood continues to sell us these films, then we should have no trouble believing that Sarah Jessica Parker is the hard-working mom who can’t bag a man (again), that Michelle Pfeiffer is a mousy and meek secretary and that Katherine Heigl ever eats chocolate. Their continued success ensures their perpetuity, but is it too much to ask that we pull back on the celebs and amp up the story? Rom-coms have a winning formula, but as (500) Days of Summer, Knocked Up and the collected works of Woody Allen continue to prove, there is no reason they have to be this average. To writer Katherine Fugate, Garry Marshall and all of Hollywood: your New Year’s resolution is “must try harder”.
New Year’s Eve was released in Australia on 8 December 2011 from Roadshow Films.