I feel the need to admit to everyone here that Love Actually is one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies and is a film I can easily watch over and over. I’m telling you this because I want you all to understand that the truly cruel words about New Year’s Eve below are not just cruel because I’m a guy and don’t like romantic comedies. They aren’t just cruel because I’m a critic and ensemble cast films full of sappy love stories are too much for my jaded heart. They aren’t just cruel because I have no time for light fare. I have liked, will like, and want to like movies like New Year’s Eve.
The words below are cruel because New Year’s Eve is not just a really bad movie, it’s also a callous, heartless and down right shallow attempt to capitalize on star power, people’s emotions and a holiday. It’s a bad movie and bad practice and it deserves to be torn apart.
New Year’s Eve
Director: Garry Marshall
Release Date: December 9, 2011
It’s hard to know where to start with a movie that doesn’t have a single good part, but the basics will probably suffice. New Year’s Eve is a spiritual successor to the really terrible Valentine’s Day. It’s one of those big movies with a whole bunch of famous people and a lot of intertwining story lines that connect somewhere at the end in some big way. I’m going to list some plot points now. You might think that I’m simply listing stereotypical plot points to poke fun at the film, and that these plot points couldn’t actually be as simple as they seem, but I want to assure you that they are all actually the real plot lines running through this film.
Ready? Here we go: Old man dying of cancer and understanding nurse, lovers who met last year and are destined to meet again this year, two people stuck in an elevator, parent and child coming closer, father/daughter reuniting, random black guy, two families at odds learning life lessons, ex-couple that were meant for each other coming back together, woman finally coming out of her shell after a life of being afraid.
I am almost positive that I have just listed the basic plot lines for every romantic film ever made. The difference between most romantic films and New Year’s Eve? The formers add something to one of these basics and create something new; the latter simply does all of them at once in a fruitless attempt to tug at every emotional heart string there is. Of course, in the process, it tugs on none of them, veers wildly out of control in terms of pacing and tone, and crashes head long into syrupy sentimentality so thick that during “the big speech,” the audience actually cracked up laughing. It didn’t help any that said “big speech” took place awkwardly halfway through the film when what little emotional tension that builds was completely missing.
I’m really not sure how director Garry Marshall managed to do a worse job holding a film together than he did on Valentines Day, but manage he did. With absolutely no care for what the audience is feeling, he plows through scene after disjointed scene as the film’s plots (I use the word loosely) unfold. With the subtlety of a sledge hammer tied to a wrecking ball swinging from a machine making the loudest noise on earth, Marshall crams scenes together, sometimes jumping from some light-hearted “humorous” banter to a man on his death bed. Any time the movie even attempts to gain any momentum, Marshall quickly puts a stop to it with brick wall decisions like that. It’s uncanny how many wrong directing decisions a man can make in one movie.
Here is where I’d really like to point out that one saving grace that I enjoyed just a little, but I’m having a lot of trouble finding one. Even the stellar (or at least famous) cast flops harder than a beached whale. Rober De Niro as a dying cancer patient with a life of regrets? Yes, please! De Niro phoning in a dying cancer patient with a life of regrets as Halle Berry pretends to be a nurse while looking for her ability to act? No. Oh, and how about a random musical number that makes no sense within the context of the film simply because Lea Michelle and Bon Jovi happen to be here? I don’t even want to begin to start on how pointless Josh Duhamel is throughout the film despite the filmmakers seeming to think his story is interesting. And the one part of the film that could have rendered a decent laugh — Seth Myers and Jessica Biel duking it out with another couple to have the first baby of the year — is totally ruined by how over the top the comedy is and its insanely poor delivery.
Even with all this, I think I would have been OK with the film’s existence if the entire thing didn’t feel so incredibly callous. Usually in movies like this — sometimes hidden deep down inside — you can find a little heart and caring, but that is completely missing from New Year’s Eve. You can almost see the filmmakers pulling the emotional strings on screen and it makes the entire film heartless. Every scene feels forced and unbelievable because the shallow motivations of the film are so blatantly obvious. This movie isn’t about celebrating a holiday or love or even about entertainment; it’s about getting people into the theater and making money. Maybe that’s what most films are about, but at least they have the decency to attempt to hide it.