New Year’s Eve: Garry Marshall’s Ensemble Film, Starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer

The creative team behind the 2010 commercial hit “Valentine’s Day” is back for repeat business with New Year’s Eve, a movie which boasts an even larger ensemble of stars.

To their credit, director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate are not trying to reinvent any wheels, or bring new ideas.  The name of the game is more of the same: Many stars, many subplots—and many romantic-comedy clichés.

“New Year’s Eve” takes place in a “movieish” New York” of ice-skating in Rockefeller Center and riding carriages through Central Park. A number of couples go through predictable ups and downs.  All the subplots are supposed to lead toward the big moment of truth: the ball drop in Times Square. Or rather, who exactly would you be locking lips with then?

The drawback, as in “Valentine’s Day,” is that none of these loosely intersecting stories get fully developed. Most of them come down to less than ten minutes of screen time, which means they lack substance and gravitas. As a result, the romantic elements suffer, and so do the comedic elements.

The characters here include an extremely wide range, from an expecting couple (Seth Myers and Jessica Biel), competing for a cash prize for the first baby of the year, to an eligible bachelor (Josh Duhamel) rushing to reunite—bearing echoes of “An Affair to Remember” (1957) and numerous other romantic comedies—with the mystery woman who slipped away exactly one year ago.

This film gets off to a slow start, as if casting about for a couple of stronger stories to rise above the rest and hold everything together. But Marshall never finds the emotional or thematic center of this necessarily episodic and fractured saga.

One serious strand involving a dying cancer patient (Robert De Niro) and his saintly nurse (Halle Berry) stands out as too serious, and perhaps overly maudlin. This entire subplot jars with the film’s otherwise light comedic, TV-like tone (which is director Marshall’s specialty).

“New Year’s Eve” becomes tiresome long before it nears its endpoint; running time of two hours is excessive for such a picture.  When Lea Michele, playing a young singer trapped for the night in an elevator with a pouting hipster (Ashton Kutcher), tells him, “We’ve been stuck in here for hours,” she might as well have been talking about the movie itself

A lot of the performances in “New Year’s Eve” feel like mugging for the camera, especially those from some of the younger actors, including Kutcher, Zac Efron, and Ludacris. (Jon Bon Jovi also falls in with this gang, despite being, comparably, an older gentleman.)

All of these guys can pull off winning performances—think of Ludacris in “No Strings Attached” (2011)—but Marshall keeps them contained in the cute zone.

Marshall loves female characters and actor.  But, strangely, many of the women characters represent studies in hostility. Accomplished actors like Katherine Heigl and Michelle Pfeiffer struggle mightily to add nuance to their parts. Pfeiffer in particular, as a mousy woman determined to quickly complete her bucket list, overreaches this time.

Since this film is obviously aimed primarily at female audiences, the many one-note roles for the women are a shame, and might be criticized as such.

Fugate’s screenplay delivers a couple of decent twists in the final act. But one of her big themes is that “New Year’s Eve is about second chances,” and she overemphasizes the point from beginning to end. Hilary Swank’s character even claims that second chances “don’t expire until midnight.”

Meanwhile, lines like “Please don’t yell at my vagina!” fail to generate the intended laughs.

While this film offers up several curious pleasures—Pfeiffer falling into a pile of trash, Swank waxing philosophical about the Times Square ball getting stuck, Efron urinating and talking on his cellphone at the same time—“New Year’s Eve” has a hard time offering up what the audience seeks: genuine pleasures in the romantic-comedy vein. In other words, the usual plus some freshness.


Stan – Robert De Niro

Ingrid – Michelle Pfeiffer

Jensen – Jon Bon Jovi

Paul – Zac Efron

Randy – Ashton Kutcher

Elise – Lea Michele

Claire – Hilary Swank

Nurse Aimee – Halle Berry

Laura – Katherine Heigl

Tess – Jessica Biel

Kim – Sarah Jessica Parker

Hailey – Abigail Breslin

Sam – Josh Duhamel

Brendan – Ludacris

Griffin – Seth Meyers


A Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Directed by Garry Marshall.

Written by Katherine Fugate.

Produced by Garry Marshall, Mike Karz, and Wayne Allan Rice.

Cinematography, Charles Minsky.

Editing, Michael Tronick.

Original Music, John Debney

Running time: 117 minutes.