NEW YEAR’S EVE. Starring Ensemble cast, including Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, Halle Berry, Katherine Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zac Efron, Josh Duhamel, and Abigail Breslin. Directed by Garry Marshall. Rated M (Infrequent coarse language). 118 min.
New York City must be the most feted city in the world for movies that attempt to capture its excitement and energy. Some movies have done that brilliantly, while others have not. Laying aside the shallowness of the recent, “New York, I Love You” (2009 ), past classics like “Annie Hall” (1977), and “West Side Story” (1961) have bottled its vibrancy, while others like “The Godfather” (1972) and “Mean Streets” (1973) have captured its dark side. If New York has special features, this film says, at no time should it be more apparent that on New Year’s Eve in Manhattan.
This is a movie starring almost anyone that can lay claim to celebrity status. It is a series of vignettes, or short stories about (as the marketing for the movie indicates) “love, hope, forgiveness, second chances, and fresh starts”. The stories inter-twine, some more successfully than others, but they all try to reflect the vitality and pulse of New York City, celebrated on a special night of the year.
Mostly, the stories are about couples, but there are also vignettes about single people. Their connections at times are tenuous, but some glue together in an involving way. When they do, it is hard to know whether that is because of the particular talents of the director of the film, Garry Marshall, or whether the people involved act particularly well - Robert De Niro and Halle Berry are two of those.
Like “Valentine’s Day” (2010), which focused on Los Angeles, everything happens on the one day. Two pregnant couples (with Jessica Biel, and Sarah Paulson) are trying to be the first to give birth in the New Year and win a $25,000 prize for doing so, a mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) argues with her young daughter (Abigail Breslin), who insists she has the right to go to Times Square for the celebrations. Hilary Swank is in charge of ensuring that the Time Square Ball drops at exactly the right moment, and a man (Robert De Niro) dying in hospital with only his nurse (Halle Berry) to keep him company, until his daughter shows up, wants to go onto the roof of the hospital to see the Ball drop. A man in formal dress (Josh Duhamel) is waiting to see whether the woman he let slip by last year will show up again this year round. An ex-employee of a record label company (Michelle Pfeiffer) asks a bike courier (Zac Efron) to take her on a quick tour of New York City so that she can give each of her New Year’s resolutions some personal meaning.
The links between all the celebrities are slight and there is hardly any time for too many serious dramas to develop. The predictable pairing off of the various romancing characters in the end is an easy solution to a rapid smorgasbord of famous people, just passing by. Moral platitudes, such as “love in any of its forms gives us hope” are everywhere, but any impact of them is lost in the film’s sentimentality.
This is a film where humanity is shown well, badly, and sometimes not at all. There are moments of sadness and joy, happiness, and dejection, but they are relatively fleeting. The survivor of the film is New York City. The vibrancy, colour and magic of that city are clear, though one feels it is not necessary for an ensemble cast of celebrities to have come together to say that. New Yorkers have that message already, and previous movies have expressed it better on their behalf.
At the end of the movie, the credits role by showing the stars of the movie, slipping up, or hamming their routines. They are worth waiting for.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Warner Bros. Pictures.
Out December 8th. 2011.