Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve is ostensibly a sequel to last year’s Valentine’s Day, a film I was very critical of for its surplus of subplots, overabundance of characters, and ceaseless intercutting. I described it as “a romantic comedy with Attention Deficit Disorder.” I could easily make the same argument for New Year’s Eve, and yet I feel much more forgiving this time. It’s mushy, routinely implausible, a little too coincidental, and often times highly predictable, and yet I found the subplots a lot easier to keep track of, I could invest in more of the characters, and in some instances, I was genuinely touched. Yes, this is yet another instance of me going easy on a romantic comedy. If you’ve read my reviews, then it’s your own fault for not seeing this coming a mile away.
Unabashed star vehicles, both films are a series of intercut vignettes taking place over the course of one day. All feature a number of characters whose lives are, to some degree, interconnected. But there are some key differences. For one thing, whereas Valentine’s Day took place in Los Angeles, New Year’s Eve takes place in New York City. This makes perfect sense. Where else to be on the last day of the year than in New York, specifically Times Square? Furthermore, although the film once again features Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher, and Hector Elizondo (a veteran of Marshall’s films), they play different characters than the ones they played in Valentine’s Day. The biggest difference is that, while the previous film focused almost exclusively on romantic relationships, this one expands its horizons to include family and friends.
The best place to start is with Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank), who has recently been appointed Vice President of the Times Square Alliance. Quite simply, her job is to make sure the ball in Times Square drops on schedule. She wants to make a good impression, although she’s understandably edgy. There to support her is her friend, a security guard named Brendan (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges). As would be expected, things don’t go smoothly; as the ball is being raised into position, several of its 3,000 LEDs suddenly go out. Everything grinds to a halt. Claire is forced to make a speech to the spectators on Times Square, and while it was a bit sentimental, perhaps even out of place, it was nice to hear. After a while, it becomes apparent that the only one who can fix it is a Russian electrician named Kominsky (Elizondo), who everyone refers to in nervous whispers.
Meanwhile, a professional caterer named Laura (Katherine Heigl) is busy preparing for a New Year’s Eve bash. Into her life reenters a music superstar named Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), who’s set to perform at a concert in the middle of Times Square. The two were supposed to get married a while back, but he got cold feet at the last second and split. He has been regretting his decision ever since, and he wants her to give him a second chance. Understandably, Laura isn’t as ready to put the past behind her. Hovering around Jensen like a cat in heat is Laura’s sous chef, Ava (Sofia Vergara). Her bouncy enthusiasm is exaggerated enough to be amusing but not so exaggerated that she seems like a hyperactive child.
And now, a quick rundown of the remaining subplots. A courier named Paul (Zac Efron) helps a timid woman named Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) cross off items on a list she has made. Paul’s best friend, a lovelorn New Year’s hater named Randy (Kutcher) becomes trapped in an elevator with a young woman named Elise (Lea Michele), one of Jensen’s backup singers. A single mom named Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) must find her runaway teenage daughter, Hailey (Abigail Breslin), who desperately wants to have a New Year’s kiss with a boy from school that she likes.
A man named Stan (Robert De Niro) lies in a hospital bed dying of cancer; his final wish is to be taken to the roof so that he can watch the ball drop one last time. At his side is a nurse named Aimee (Halle Berry). A man named Sam (Josh Duhamel) gets stranded in Connecticut after a wedding and is forced to hitch a ride with a family in an RV. He has to make it to New York City in time to give a speech, and possibly reunite with a woman he met on New Year’s Eve a year ago. Finally, two pregnant couples – one played by Biel and Seth Meyers – are on the verge of delivery; it becomes a competition, as the first to give birth on New Year’s Day with a $25,000 cash prize from the hospital. A few of these characters are connected in some way, although I leave it to you to discover how.
Of all the film’s subplots, the one I liked the least was the one with Biel and Meyers. I don’t know – something about turning impending birth into a contest doesn’t sit well with me. Without it, however, we would not have Carla Gugino, which in turn would mean the loss of an outtake played during the end credits. To describe it would only ruin its hilarity. As for the other subplots, they’re about as good as they can possibly be given their brevity and innate implausibility. I’ve long since learned to expect this from romantic comedies, which is why I’ll often accept them for being exactly what they are. New Year’s Eve imparts no wisdom about life and love. It’s just what it is: A lighthearted, uncomplicated, feel-good date movie. Need it be anything more?
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Warner Bros. Pictures