What Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day is to schmaltzy romance, his New Year’s Eve is to schmaltzy resolve. But this formulaic star vehicle is more entertaining than most critics claim. It is almost as innocuously enjoyable, if not as humorous or as well-integrated, as its predecessor. If you can stand the schmaltz, and most people I know can’t (I prefer schmaltz to sleaze), it’s a fine pick for DVD night (though I saw it in a theater). The main attraction is seeing the stars in their elements: Zac Efron (Charlie St. Cloud, High School Musical 3) charming, dancing and flirting with a nerd-woman played by Michelle Pfeiffer; Lea Michele (Glee) doing her glammed up ugly duckling opposite Ashton Kutcher’s cutesy, goofy guy; Hilary Swank (P.S. I Love You) pulling off an earnest and meaningful Times Square ball-drop and making every last moment matter.
Transitions and scenes are too fast and clipped, cliches are everywhere, and important action happens off-screen. Yet screenwriter Katherine Fugate (a romanticist whom I interviewed for her first picture, The Prince and Me) has talent and New Year’s Eve, which tracks to the time-sensitive countdown, a construct which is partly why it feels rushed, features poignant scenes and good writing. Besides the frivolous fun of seeing everyone (too many to mention) do their thing, from Modern Family‘s well endowed Sofia Vergara’s update on a Charo routine to Josh Duhamel’s dashing gentleman about town trying to make it into town, there’s the New York City setting, which looks great and works well.
Despite the drawbacks, such as miscast Jon Bon Jovi, a climax-killing appearance by nanny state/Ground Zero Mosque Mayor Michael Bloomberg and mistaking an act of confidence for a “leap of faith”, New Year’s Eve contains comedy, resolve and a genuine respect for goal-oriented action and the virtue of productiveness. Everyone from artists, nurses and electricians to (ahem) rich businessmen who inherit their wealth and position, and single parents, expectant parents and other various traders and producers of wealth and value, gets their due. As in Valentine’s Day, so do those who serve our nation’s military and those who love them. All that plus beautiful women in stunning dresses and Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) in the best performance, an all-star cast with good turns by Larry Miller as a tow-truck driver, Swank and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as a teen-ager and an enunciated version of Auld Lang Syne as you’ve rarely heard it and New Year’s Eve has more than a few pops.
There’s a place for light romantic, even schmaltzy, comedy. I like this sort of thing done well, so I hope studios don’t give up on love and lightness in the new decade. Co-starring Katherine Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City), Robert DeNiro (Righteous Kill), Seth Meyers, Jessica Biel, with appearances by Carla Gugino, Penny Marshall (Laverne and Shirley), James Belushi, John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Matthew Broderick, Common (Just Wright), Cary Elwes, Ludacris billed as Chris Bridges, and Alyssa Milano.