Movie: Old formula, new message

Smitha Gundavajhala

Paul (Zac Efron) dances with Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer). In the movie, Paul takes it upon himself to fulfill all of Ingrid’s resolutions before midnight — in exchange for some exclusive tickets to a masquerade ball. Their story drives the movie’s theme: the hope for a sense of fulfillment and purpose, before starting over the next year. Photo by Warner Studios.

 

“There’s more celebrities here than rehab,” says Laura (Katherine Heigl) in reference to the New Year’s Eve festivities. There are 24, to be precise. And those are only the bigger names.

With numbers like that, it almost seems like screen pollution. The truth of the matter is, Garry Marshall doesn’t need that many big names to make a great movie. Intertwining many stories around one central event seems to be what he is best at, if past movies such as ‘Valentine’s Day’ are any indication. With this movie, however, it doesn’t seem so random. His use of celebrities works in this movie, especially since it hints at a message even larger than the names on the screen.

Ingrid (Pfeiffer) is an unfulfilled, “pathetic” (Paul’s words, not mine) woman with an agenda — a list of resolutions, to be precise. And if courier Paul (Efron) can help her fulfill each of them, he gets four exclusive tickets  to the Ari’s Masquerade Ball, for which Laura is head chef, Ava (Sofia Vergara) is sous chef  and Chef Sunil (Russell Peters) provides comic relief. Laura’s ex-boyfriend and singer Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) screwed up when he left her last year and now wants her back. Jensen is supposed to be singing both at Ari’s and at Times Square on the same night, which worries the vice president of the Times Square Alliance Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank), who is further freaked out when the giant Times Square Ball breaks down mid-ascent.

I won’t bore you all with the rest of the cast list, because it’s so long, but I can tell you that it’s a story of love, lost and found, familial and romantic, and of course they are all elaborately threaded together. The stage is set for hilarious mix-ups and self-discovery alike, all with the dazzling and dramatic backdrop of New York City.

The downside: there are so many story lines that it becomes hard to keep up with. You probably won’t get all of the characters’ names in one watching. What makes this movie worth it is that it merits a second watching.

Mothers-to-be Tess Byrne (Jessica Biel) and Grace Schwab (Grace Paulson) enter a showdown over whose baby will be born first in the hospital in the new year. The winner takes $25,000. In Tess’s words: “It’s on.” Photo by Warner Studios.

While it does follow the old Marshall formula, with several star-studded stories centering around one large event, this one is more meaningful than past movies. More than celebrities, it has star quality. Between all of the confusion, competition, and Lea Michele’s inspiring rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”, ‘New Year’s Eve’ definitely has a stronger sense of purpose. All of the snarkiness and the confusedness of ‘Valentine’s Day’ is replaced by humor that is innocent, honest, and honest-to-goodness funny.

For instance, when Hailey (Abigail Breslin) attempts to convince Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) to let her go to Times Square unsupervised at midnight, Kim says that she’s too young.

Hailey: I’m fifteen, Mom! (She pulls up her shirt) This is not a training bra!
Kim: (going to pull Hailey’s shirt down) And this is not “Girls Gone Wild”!

So that last one wasn’t as innocent. But how about this?

Tess’s Doctor: (while birthing Tess’s baby) That’s it. You are a channel.
Tess: I am the perfect channel. (after a few moments of pained grunting) Change the channel!

While the humor is definitely present, there is a certain purity in its message. This is best typified by Claire Morgan’s (Hilary Swank) inspiring speech to the people gathered in Times Square: “We must stop and reflect on the past year, all of our gains and missteps, promises broken and made, and learn from this, not just this year but for all the years to come.” That hope drives the craziness of this whole movie, with all of its energy and hype: the promise of tomorrow.

Randy (Ashton Kutcher) braves traffic and crowds in order to return to Elise (Lea Michele) her rubber bracelet. Well, he also does it for a kiss. But that’s the wonderful thing about New Year’s Eve, isn’t it? One doesn’t get slapped for that sort of shenanigans. Photo by Warner Studios.

Garry Marshall really hit this nail on the head. If anything, his use of celebrities in this movie seems intentional. It shows us all that, in the larger scheme of things, we’re all people. We’ve all made mistakes, and we all have chances to correct them in the future. Despite — rather, because of all of the madness, the plot twists, and the celebrity overload, ‘New Year’s Eve’ is definitely worth watching. Maybe even twice.