Considerably less syrupy than last year’s Valentine’s Day, but cut from the same sappy cloth, New Year’s Eve, directed by Pretty Woman’s Garry Marshall, features an all-star cast of big-ticket names playing hopelessly mushy New Yorkers whose lives conveniently intersect on – what else but – December 31!
The Big Apple setting lends this film more character than the generic ‘any-town’ feel of the LA-based Valentine’s Day, and there is some pleasure to be had taking in the sights of a decorated Manhattan in the holidays. But Marshall continues to exploit every conceivable scenario for schmaltz. So you have innocent first kisses, ex-lovers reuniting, midnight rendezvous, dying fathers, newborn babies, husbands at war, and strangers trapped together. By the end of it, you won’t need any sugar for your tea.
Hillary Swank is a Times Square party planner who finds herself in a tight spot when the famous ‘ball drop’ tradition appears jinxed under her watch. Katherine Heigl plays a chef hired to cater a party at which Jon Bon Jovi, playing her ex-rockstar boyfriend, is to perform. Ashton Kutcher is a grumpy killjoy who gets stuck in an elevator for hours with a cheery backup singer, played by Glee’s Lea Michele. Sarah Jessica Parker shows up as the overprotective mother of teenaged Abigail Breslin. And Jessica Biel is a pregnant mom-to-be, competing for the new year’s ‘first baby’ prize money against a rival expectant mother. The cheesiest track belongs to Robert De Niro who stars as a dying patient who wants to see the ball drop one last time in Times Square, and Halle Berry as the considerate nurse he appeals to.
Of the various narrative threads criss-crossing into each other, the most genuinely affectionate one involves Michelle Pfeiffer as a dowdy neurotic who hires a young courier boy, played by Zac Efron, to help her meet her list of resolutions. Also deserving of a thumbs-up is Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara as Heigl’s charming junior chef.
There are more actors in this – Josh Duhamel, Carla Gugino, Matthew Broderick, Ludacris, Hector Elizondo, Seth Meyers, Sarah Paulson, even Russel Peters doing an Indian caricature. And while it’s fun to play spot-the-celebrity during the film’s two hours running time, New Year’s Eve isn’t nearly as witty or enjoyable as that similarly-structured holiday movie, Love Actually.
I’m going with two out of five for New Year’s Eve. It’s frothy and forgettable. Just don’t expect anything more.