New Year’s Eve is all about its stars: the 20 or so recognizable faces that pop up on screen. Everything else seems to have come second. It’s easy enough to imagine that much of the production was spent wrangling these names together, the story built around their comings and goings. It certainly explains the film’s complete lack of narrative momentum and conflict. New Year’s Eve aims for nothing more than bringing a bunch of big names together. In that respect, it succeeds. In almost every other consideration, it is a complete failure.
It is New Year’s Eve in New York City. Newly minted vice-president of the Times Square Alliance Claire (Hillary Swank) is struggling to keep the Times Square countdown from going off the rails. Rockstar Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi) is trying to win back caterer Laura (Katherine Heigl), who he left behind a year ago. Holiday hater Randy (Ashton Kutcher) gets stuck in an elevator with backup singer Elise (Lea Michele). Courier Paul (Zac Efron) helps jaded Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) fulfill her list of resolutions in exchange for a few invites to an exclusive party. Expectant couple Tess and Griffin (Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers) compete with another couple to have the first baby of the New Year.
And then there’s mother and daughter Kim and Hailey (Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigail Breslin), who get into a fight over how Hailey is spending New Year’s Eve. And nurse Aimee (Halle Berry), who watches over terminal patient Stan (Robert de Niro). And then there’s Sam (Josh Duhamel), who’s rushing into the city while trying to decide whether or not he’s going to meet up with a girl he met last New Year’s Eve. (Spoiler alert: he does). There are a lot of stories, but precious little dramatic tension. Hardly anything is in the control of the characters, and they end up resolving their stories without doing much at all.
None of the stories are given enough time to develop. There are simply too many characters and too many plotlines, and even at a weighty 118 minutes, the film just can’t keep all those plotlines relevant. The film might have worked better if they cut a couple of these storylines, but that would of course mean cutting out some of the stars. So even though the pregnancy storyline doesn’t intersect with any of the other stories and none of its jokes actually work, it’s kept in because Jessica Biel has to be in the movie somehow.
The movie does have a couple of good moments, though. When you throw this much talent together, someone good is bound to come out of it. There’s one somewhat strong scene between Halle Berry and Common that only suffers because it feels like it belongs in another movie altogether. Hillary Swank more or less salvages an incredibly trite speech in the middle of the movie. Few of the other cast members are able to show off much of a personality. The ones that do achieve it through off-putting broadness. Like Sofia Vergara, who amps up the accent and shows off her cleavage through a chef’s jacket.
New Year’s Eve is barely a movie. Movies call for narrative, or some measure of cohesion. It’s more like a big society party. A bunch of big stars are invited, and they have some fun rubbing elbows with each other as blaring music plays and champagne flows freely. The audience isn’t invited, however, only getting glimpses of their lives through the filter of the society pages. New Year’s Eve offers little more than what’s served up daily in newspapers around the world, its assemblage of stars the only reason it exists.