|This is only half the cast.|
After a roller-coaster year of films ranging from awesome to meh, it is only fitting that 2011 ends with a deeply introspective film about the travails of urban life; a film that showed us that even though everything around us is designed to make us feel like we’re great and unique, they have the exact opposite effect on us.
Set in New York City on New Year’s Eve (would you have guessed?), this film follows the lives of a 100 characters, who are lucky/unlucky/happy/unhappy in love, family, work, philandering, etc.
Great scripts, properly fleshed out characters and witty dialogue are so 2010. This film has such terrible dialogue uttered by shallow, one-dimensional characters with perplexing motivations, that it cannot have been anything but deliberate. Right there is the film’s true brilliance: the courage to point out that we’re drowning in an ocean of irrelevant information. Its lacklustre script is an allegory of our shallow, one-dimensional Facebook lives, and the gag-worthy memes we wearily link to, so as not to look like the fuddy-duddy who hasn’t got with the programme.
The greatest message one can take away from this film, is that we’re all sad, lonely and desperate people in December and only Hollywood is to blame for that. Thanks to vapid romcoms and Christmas fluff like that saccharine mess called It’s a Wonderful Life (starring the highly untalented Jimmy Stewart), it has become practically compulsory to meet someone cool and quirky and spend a special holiday moment with them. And as the clock ticks on, we’re supposed to make out with any person who happened to have been around for the last couple of hours– even if they look unwashed and then convince ourselves that it wasn’t oxytocin or Hollywood indoctrination, but was a Life-Changing Moment. We’re supposed to convince ourselves that falling in love with somebody you’re stuck with in an elevator is the real McCoy and not Stockholm Syndrome. There hasn’t been a braver film since Sunset Boulevard to show us Hollywood’s dark underbelly. In fact, New Year’s Eve is more than a film; it is an exposé.
SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be discussing some of the plots, so don’t read ahead if you haven’t watched the movie because you are waiting for the Director’s Cut DVD.
Perhaps the second greatest message one takes away from this film, is the far-reaching effects of bad parenting. One the one hand, we see Robert De Niro dying of a terminal illness. His only wish is to see the ball drop in Times Square because it represents all the happy times he had with his daughter before he drove her away. His daughter Hillary Swank, is a VP of the Times Square Alliance and makes it her life-ambition to make sure that ball drops at 12, because she knows her dying father will be watching. What cold-blooded revenge! Instead of forgiving her father and spending his last days with him by reconnecting with him, she makes sure to only spend the last 10 minutes of his life with him when they see the ball drop together. The ball drop itself is a clear allegory of his dropping the parental ball and a representation of how her life has become defined by his callous parenting. On the other hand, we see new parents Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel generously but foolishly refuse a cheque for $25,000, which could have easily gone to their child’s college fund and ensured him a future. As the camera zooms in to the baby’s (apparently innocent) face, we see a seed of resentment glimmering in his big eyes. Chilling.
The film also warns foolish romantics about the dangerous myth of serendipitous love. Why else would they have the woman who played Carrie “Cupid has flown the co-op” Bradshaw fall in love with a lothario? On the one hand, we have Sarah Jessica Parker (a divorced mom) and Josh Duhamel (a rake) who had one conversation a year before and then decide to meet again the next year, despite not knowing each other’s names or situations. On the other hand, we have Zac Efron (a surprisingly well-connected FedEx employee with a magical bike that can avoid New Year’s Eve traffic in Manhattan) and Michelle Pfeiffer (a mousy little woman) who join forces to complete Pfeiffer’s extremely pedestrian list of resolutions. Not only is this another example of the horrible longing for love that Hollywood wants us to feel so we’ll keep buying DVDs of Miracle on 34th Street, but it is also extremely obvious that one of the four will turn out to be a serial killer and/or a secret-cam perv (possible gritty action sequel? Fingers crossed!).
A-list actors in cameo roles in a film where every main character is also a cameo role may initially strike one as incongruous. What is the purpose of having Alyssa Milano, Cary Elwes and John Lithgow in supremely inconsequential roles that could have been ably performed by set extras, you ask? Why, it is nothing but an allegory for the groupie-culture urban society engenders, and the immense amount of peer pressure we’re under all the time. Obviously, when Alyssa, Cary and John discovered that every single Hollywood A-lister ever was in this movie and that the premier party was going to be rad, they shed every last ounce of dignity and took on two-line roles. Not since Requiem for a Dream have we seen such a powerful (and effective) anti-drug message.
A few minor quibbles: Not enough time was spent on the highly necessary ‘War = :(' plot line. That undercurrent of racist tension so beautifully captured by Sofia Vergara and Russell Peters by portraying annoying racist caricatures would’ve received an Oscar nod, if only they had received more screen time. The excessive amount of product placement in the film grew tiresome. But I suppose it is naive to expect a film set mostly in Times Square to not milk that hormone-injected cash cow.