In 2010, Garry Marshall directed the surprise hit Valentine’s Day, a romantic comedy boasting an all-star cast that focused on everyone’s favorite romantic holiday. Critics loathed it, but audiences seemed to lap it up–at least during Valentine’s Day weekend, during which it earned just over half its total box office gross. In 2011, Marshall attempted a similar crowd pleaser with New Year’s Eve, another ensemble piece about a holiday seldom focused on in movies. There are lots of Christmas movies of course, but few have so specifically centered on the last day of the year.
Not only was New Year’s Eve not as popular with moviegoers, the critics reamed it even harder than Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure why, to be quite honest, because the movie is as perfectly functional as a box of cheap chocolates. Think of it as the Whitman’s Sampler of holiday films. There are a whole bunch of mini-plots, all of which are disposable and forgettable. But they’re not unpleasant really, just bland and uninspired. The whole thing is inoffensive enough that it seems to be not worth the energy to trash it.
Robert De Niro plays terminal cancer patient Stan Harris, who longs to watch the ball drop in Times Square one final time from the hospital roof. Halle Berry plays Aimee, his sympathetic nurse. Hilary Swank is the harried Claire Morgan, fretting over technical snafus as she coordinates the famous dropping of the ball. Rock star Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) will be performing, but he’s preoccupied by relationship troubles with his ex, Laura (Katherine Heigl). Meanwhile, Elise (Lea Michele) is supposed to sing backup for Jensen, but she’s stuck in a malfunctioning elevator with killjoy Randy (Ashton Kutcher).
Got all that? That only scratches the surface, as there are numerous other story threads, all of which are equally under-developed and inconsequential. There’s Michelle Pfeiffer as the quirky and ditzy Ingrid, a secretary at Jensen’s record label who quits her job and works her way through her bucket list in a single day. Sarah Jessica Parker is a mom struggling with a very mildly rebellious teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) who wants to go to a party. Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel are a couple hoping to give birth to their hospital’s first child of the new year in order to snag a $25,000 prize. To say this movie is overstuffed would be a considerable understatement.
I think that was the whole point though. This is the kind of the movie that was designed to appeal to the widest-ranging, least-discerning audience. If one plot thread is a little too cute or a little too soapy, you can ignore it. Again, it’s like the crappy Whitman Sampler’s that someone inevitably brings over at Christmas –if you can’t stand the cherry cordial, just spit it out. New Year’s Eve will make an acceptable time passer for those holiday season gatherings that include a ton of family members of varying ages, all of whom possessing wildly different tastes (or perhaps no taste at all). The movie seems to have been fashioned as deliberately slight, to play in the background during parties. While it’s not very good, it’s not nearly bad enough to get too worked up over.
New Year’s Eve looks pretty much flawless on Blu-ray. The level of fine detail is very impressive, especially during wide shots of the Times Square crowds. The digital cinematography is consistently crisp. The sharp angles and glassy textures of New York City’s buildings are realistically captured. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is effective, though a little less impressive. Dialogue is fine, always intelligible even during the large, noisy crowd scenes. Music is full, with a fair amount of bass end. The surround channels are well utilized, without ever standing out as exceptional. The overall sound design is modest, but the track is quite serviceable. All things considered, the presentation is basically faultless.
Director Garry Marshall provides an annoying commentary track. Marshall speaks as if he’s addressing an audience of young children, more often than not simply narrating what we see on screen in an overly enthusiastic tone. Some 17 minutes of deleted scenes demonstrate just how much longer the already indulgently lengthy New Year’s Eve could have been. There’s a gag reel that recycles most of the flubs seen during the actual film’s end credits. A few short featurettes round out the underwhelming extras, with the best one focusing on the song performed by Jon Bon Jovi and Lea Michele. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack presents both formats on a single flipper disc.
New Year’s Eve has a lot of stars and a lot of melodrama. The jokes aren’t very funny and the emotional moments don’t register as all that genuine. Even so, I think this kind of movie serves a particular purpose and I expect it will be a fixture for many people during the holidays for years to come.