Dowdy spinster Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) enlists an unlikely assistant to help her live a bucket list of resolutions before the clock strikes a full stop on another downtrodden year. With only a few hours until the ball drops, Paul (Zac Efron) must get creative to secure tickets to the party of the year and play Fairy Godmother to New Year’s Eve-averse, love-averse, roommate Ashton Kutcher. Swoonsome BFFs Zac and Ashton are but two of a galaxy of stars pinballing around the sugar-sweet heart of Garry Marshall’s ensemble rom-com, clocking up crushes and coincidences galore along the way.
In fact the festive offering quite overflows with ‘names’, some more surprising than others. The two boys are in familiar territory, as are popcorn princesses Katherine Heigl and Lea Michelle. (Mr. Kutcher spends much of his screen time trapped in a lift with the latter which does wonders for his character’s ”love sucks” philosophy!) For less youthful viewers, the love interest box is amply filled by Josh Duhamel and Jon Bon Jovi. Onscreen Mother/daughter pair Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigail Breslin have taken on lightweight roles before as have Michelle Pfeiffer and Hilary Swank and, though all four are seriously underutilised in New Year’s Eve, they are not too out of place. Rather more eyebrow-raising is the presence of Hollywood heavies Robert De Niro and Halle Berry among the players. I cannot help but suspect they were solely given the pages for their own scenes. Or had wandered onto set by mistake…
Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank) is the new Vice President of the Time Square Alliance. Overseeing the events of the next twelve hours will be a true trial by fire – her crippling fear of heights is only the first obstacle she has to overcome. She has to ensure that more than a billion worldwide viewers enjoy a faultless celebration. No mean feat when the big ball drop has already been thrown into jeopardy by a malfunctioning ball. There is nothing wrong with rock star Jensen’s balls. Jon Bon Jovial broke the heart of poor chef Laura (Heigl) - proposing and giving her a glimpse of a loved-up life together before running away as fast as his cold feet could carry him. Now he’s back, with his guitar, sincere apologies and that hair, to win her trust once more.
Meanwhile, at the hospital two very different tales are unfolding. The race to deliver the valuable first baby of the year intensifies with bribery, competitive anchovy eating and a bump-to-bump face off in the hospital hall. The cutesy plot strand is clumsily woven into the narrative but does offer a safe place for Jessica Biel to continue to be bland and entirely without charisma. Mr. Harris (Robert De Niro), attended by Nurse Aimee (Halle Berry), is holding on until midnight. He has no intention of prolonging his moody, solitary existence with chemotherapy, he just wants to stick around to see the year change from atop Time Square. One has the impression/hope he intends to hurl himself off the roof at the drop of the ball. Not because he is a particularly loathsome character (few of the characters have sufficient dimension to inspire strong feelings in either direction), simply because New Year’s Eve would benefit from a bit more darkness. The Love Actually aspirations of the film are so overt, it wouldn’t have done any harm for NYE’s writers to follow its example and hit some blacker comic notes.
Rockettes’ costumier and overprotective Mommy SJP isn’t ready to let her baby girl go. But Hailey (Breslin) is a teen with a dream – a dream of a New Year’s Eve kiss with pretty boy Seth! Mum chases Hailey down to the New York subway but – taking her first step towards independence – she pulls away, ignores her shrilling mobile and clatters off in a train bound for Time Square and the butterfly-whirling potential of her very first kiss. As rebellions go her’s is a bit of a storm in a teacup. Such behaviour is likely to inspire revocation of Facebook privileges yes, but to do no more significant damage than a missed opportunity to untag embarrassing Christmas photos or a little silly string in her ‘do. These kids are astonishingly clean cut and innocent for born, bread and buttered New Yorkers. I’d be curious to know what the city’s real 15-year-olds spend New Year’s Eve doing because these are disturbingly tame.
Garry Marshall’s previous outing Valentine’s Day offered a good idea of what to expect here. New Year’s Eve does nothing great, nothing gripping and nothing particularly fresh, funny or clever. It isn’t dreadful by any means, it just lacks charm. There is an effort made to tug at the heartstrings but it’s a half-hearted pesky-kid sort of tug – an irritation you can swat away or distract with a biscuit. Jessica Biel aside, the ensemble cast’s performances are universally fair, they simply don’t have enough to do. Ironically the least convincing performance is that of Ryan Seacrest, playing himself, flailing in an E! True NYE Flap as the ball fails to rise. It takes something extra special to appear so incapable of being real.
Alongside a handful of more deliberate spot-the-face cameos, New Kids On The Block’s Joey McIntyre makes a brief appearance as a New Years groom in a throwaway wedding scene which was intended to introduce us to Josh Duhamel’s Sam but instead threw me into a why do I know that guy trance. Sam’s preamble/scramble to get to the city is one of the more aimless threads of the story and I spent his early scenes wondering (with little real interest) which of the single ladies of a certain age would qualify as his reappearing Miss Right. Of course in the end everyone gets some variation of the happy ending they have been seeking. It is only a pity the journey wasn’t more entertaining.
New Year’s Eve is a fine pick for background filler after a Christmas over-indulgence but I wouldn’t buy it for your beloved unless you intend a New Year’s break-up yourself. Fans of Love Actually should probably stick to Love Actually for now. This young pretender doesn’t have the chops to steal its crown.
New Year’s Eve is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download from 3rd December
The DVD includes a director’s commentary from Garry Marshall and a Gag Reel