In 2009, Garry Marshall directed Valentine’s Day, a film that brought together a bunch of celebrities in multiple narratives to fall in love just in time for the February holiday. The movie was largely derided by critics for its shoddy storytelling, weak characters and clichés. Now Marshall is back to celebrate a new special day of the year, New Year’s Eve, and somehow the results are even worse.
The movie takes place entirely on the day before the calendars change as multiple characters find love and redemption in the heart of New York City before the ball drops in Times Square. While it would take forever to describe all of the plots, among the storylines is a couple (Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers) trying to win the prize money that comes with giving birth to the first child of the new year; a dying man (Robert De Niro) who wants to do nothing more than watch the start of the new year from the roof of the hospital; the vice president of the Times Square alliance (Hilary Swank) who is in charge of making sure all of the events go smoothly; two neighbors (Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michelle) trapped on an elevator together; and a caterer (Katherine Heigl) who must deal with her rock star ex-fiancée (Jon Bon Jovi) coming back into her life.
Part of the series of romantic movies with multiple plots that became popular after the release and success of Richard Curtis’ Love Actually in 2003, New Year’s Eve translates that idea as “eight thrown together naratives that are 80% filler, 20% content.” While the film runs almost two hours, if you were to cut each story in half they would make just as much sense and be just as effective (which is to say not at all, but at least the movie would be shorter). Adding insult to injury is the way that the characters are connected. Previous examples of the genre have succeeded in making clever attempts to link the multiple tales, but Marshall’s film is satisfied half-assing it, giving the characters small and meaningless moments that don’t help the audience better understand the characters or affect the outcome of the stories
Most impressively, New Year's Eve has 20 main characters and fails to give any of them interesting personalities or narratives. Because of the insane number of stories that the film tries to pack in to its 118 minute runtime, movie-goers are constantly looking for one plot to latch on to, but it ends up being a lost cause because every character is either completely airheaded or excessively dull (though at least they mix it up along gender lines). This, of course, ends up tainting every romantic relationship in the film, as who wants to see the dumbass end up with the bore, the dumbass end up with the dumbass, the bore end up with the bore, or the bore end up with the dumbass?
The movie doesn’t even qualify to be called a romantic comedy. That would mean it makes people laugh and fall in love with the characters, something it fails to do on both fronts. The characters do make jokes, but they either result in awkwardness or eye-rolls. The only time the audience actually reacts to the film it’s because they can’t believe what they are watching. For example, as Josh Duhamel takes an RV ride from Connecticut to New York, his Blackberry sits in a glass of rice that is never explained. The biggest laugh, however, comes with the last shot of the film as the camera looks over Times Square and a giant poster for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - a film due out the week after this one’s release, from the same studio of course.
New Year’s Eve isn’t a film so much as it is a series of poorly made shorts that were thrown in a shredder and then haphazardly taped back together. To Garry Marshall’s credit, it must take some kind of skill to make a project that has so much going on, but at the same time nothing at all.