“Some people swear there’s no beauty left in the world, no magic,” Claire Morgan announces as New Year’s Eve begins, “Then how do you explain the entire world coming together on one night to celebrate the hope of a new year?” And, indeed, New Year’s Eve is all about hope—mostly of the relational kind.
The exception, actually, might be Claire herself. The vice president of Times Square Alliance (the organization responsible for making sure a certain legendary, lit-up ball comes down precisely at midnight) isn’t worried about having someone to smooch at midnight. No, she’s worried about making sure her first stint as the person responsible for dropping the ball goes off without a hitch. And it is all going swimmingly … right up until the moment the ball comes to a screeching halt on the way up its pole.
Meanwhile, bike courier Paul wants to go to the biggest party of the night at Ahern Records. It’s an impossible wish, except that his last delivery of the day goes to Ingrid, a mousy middle-aged secretary at that very company. She has at her disposal four tickets to the party that she doesn’t really want. What Ingrid does want is to find some purpose in life after a near-miss with a car … purpose that’s captured on her list of New Year’s resolutions. So she makes Paul a deal: If he helps her fulfill her list by midnight, the tickets are his.
Oh, you want to know what’s on the list? Well, easy, simple stuff, really, like … “go to Bali,” “save a life” and “be amazed.”
Now, in most movies, that would be enough fodder for maybe even three hours of storytelling. But in Garry Marshall’s plot-hungry hands that’s just one of many hope-filled tales.
There’s also …
… pop idol Daniel Jensen’s determination to win back the heart of a top-flight caterer named Laura after ditching her the year before;
… backup singer Elise’s thrilling shot at stardom as a part of Jensen’s band—until she gets stuck in her apartment elevator with a cynical, pajama-wearing, New Year’s Eve-hating comic book artist named Randy;
… a terminally ill older man named Stan who just wants his kind nurse, Aimee, to take him to the roof of the hospital so he can watch the ball drop;
… a 15-year-old named Hailey who hopes to rendezvous with a cute boy named Seth at Times Square … if only her clingy mother, Kim, will let her go;
… and two pregnant couples (Tess and Griffin, James and Grace), who hope to claim $25,000 for being the first to deliver a baby in the new year.
Finally, there’s Sam. Stranded in Connecticut after a car wreck, Sam needs to get back to the Big Apple to deliver an important speech … and maybe, just maybe, reconnect with a woman who kissed him last year and told him to meet her at the same spot if he was still interested one year later.
Oh, and did I mention that Ryan Seacrest shows up too? He’s hoping his live New Year’s Eve show will be as good as Dick Clark’s always were.
If there’s one thing almost everyone needs from time to time, it’s a fresh start, a second chance at pursuing what’s most important in life. For some people in this film, like dowdy Ingrid, that means taking risks for the first time ever. For others, like Jensen, it means admitting that you’ve made some pretty massive blunders. Still others, like hardhearted Randy, begin to realize that hardheartedness isn’t something that just happens to you. Rather, it’s a choice.
Throughout each of the intertwined stories, the consistent message is this: It’s not too late to start over or to start for the very first time … even when it looks as if failure is already destined to rule the day.
Claire seizes her moment when she’s forced to go on TV and talk about why the ball has stopped and whether it will be able to be moved any farther up … or down by midnight. She tells people the frozen ball offers a chance to reflect on the year that’s gone by, to remember what really matters most: forgiveness, love and making the world a better place. Letting go of the previous 12 months’ failures and embracing the possibilities of the new year. It’s a new chance, she says, to commit to kindness—not just on New Year’s Eve, but all year long.
Though no one ever uses the word grace, that’s really the point. There’s grace to get up, grace to try again, grace to strive for a better outcome than the ones we’ve known in the past.
Accordingly, we get lots of little glimpses of grace in action. When Hailey sneaks out her bedroom window and defies her mom by going to Times Square, her very un-positive actions are met with both consequences and love. A former ladies’ man realizes that he wants a real relationship, not the life of empty sex he’s apparently had up to that point. A kind bike courier realizes he can creatively help someone’s dreams come true. A couple “competing” fiercely for the prize of delivering the year’s first baby realizes that their rivals need the money more than they do. An old man longs to apologize for a lifetime of self-centered choices as he stands on the brink of death.
Tess and Griffin’s doctor, who’s named in the credits as “Spiritual Dr. Morriset,” dispenses mysticism-tinged childbirth counsel. We hear mentions of yoga, “hypno-birth” and seeing with our “third eye.”
Sam is the best man at a friend’s wedding, and the couple talks about how the groom’s casual sex days are over while Sam’s are not. Two admiring women sidle up to Sam at a party, one suggesting she wants to be the woman behind him, the other adding she wants to be the woman in front. (He ultimately brushes off their threesome-minded advances to pursue the woman he met the year before.) Ava practically throws herself at Jensen. She talks about wanting to make love to him and flirts suggestively and repeatedly. Outtakes show Elise leaving Randy’s apartment, with him following her out sans shirt saying things were just getting hot.
We hear a guy say, “Me and my girl are gonna crush a 12-pack and watch porn.” Laura talks of having “years of make-up sex” with Jensen. When Randy and Elise get out of the elevator they’re trapped in, the building supervisor is convinced they had sex (they didn’t) and says he plans to watch the elevator’s video tape. A guy is asked if he “boinked” a particular woman.
Women sport tight dresses or outfits that display cleavage, especially Laura’s randy sous chef, Ava. In a misguided attempt to convince her mother of her maturity, Hailey lifts up her shirt in public, very briefly revealing a bra and exclaiming, “This isn’t a training bra.” Her shocked mother retorts, “And this isn’t Girls Gone Wild.” Hailey and the boy she’s crushing on, Seth, eventually kiss (actress Abigail Breslin’s first onscreen smooch). Likewise, many of the film’s couples share stroke-of-midnight kisses.
Absentmindedly wandering into an intersection, Ingrid is nearly hit by a car; she falls backward into a pile of garbage. Sam drives off the road, resulting in a fender bender. Laura slaps Jensen in the face twice. There’s a moment of peril when the giant ball in Times Square starts ascending with a worker still on top.
One fully uttered f-word and another partially spoken. Likewise, we hear one s-word (in an outtake during the credits), and another abbreviated use. There are three or four uses each of “a‑‑” and “h‑‑‑”; one use each of “p‑‑‑” and “b‑‑ch.” Someone uses the vulgar acronym “S.O.L.,” which he then says means “Something Out of Luck,” because, he insists, “I don’t swear.” The tow truck driver warns Sam not to say “h‑‑‑” when talking to a pastor.
Lots of folks are shown in bars or at parties with champagne or other alcoholic beverages in hand, ready to toast the new year. An obviously drunken man repeatedly (and accidentally) nods forward into Kim’s lap as she sits on the bar.
Several anatomy-related jokes are connected to Tess’ impending delivery. Among other things, she says that for $25,000, someone could “put a camera in my woohoo, and it would be worth it.” And at the onset of both women’s labor, a nurse jokes, “Ladies, may the best vajajay win.” Tess and Griffin offer their doctor 70% of the prize money if she’ll perform a C-section on Tess; the doctor refuses (and threatens to give Griffin a rectal exam). Tess vomits into a bucket.
According to unapologetically sentimental director Garry Marshall, New Year’s Eve—the holiday—offers “the perfect opportunity to take stock of things, to think about the mistakes of the past year and about how maybe you can do better. [It’s] a time to be thankful for what you have. But it’s also a fun, exciting, wonderful time, full of anticipation—and yes, some craziness. Mostly, it’s about hope, when everything you want seems possible again, if you’re willing to take another chance.”
That statement exactly matches New Year’s Eve—the movie—which dives headfirst into those optimistic ideals. Sure, it’s a sappy and sometimes sudsy affair, full of predictably happy endings. But Marshall’s buoyant take is a refreshing contrast to the many dark and cynical attitudes on “reality” that Hollywood has been enamored of in the last decade or so.
And while the film never really deals with what’s essentially a message of grace in any substantive spiritual sense, the stories Marshall has woven together still offer a secular echo of the truth that God, too, is in the business of second chances and fresh starts.
The only paper cuts this confetti inflict is occasionally bawdy humor, some gratuitous cleavage shots and a couple of harsh profanities—no doubt tossed in to ensure the film secured the slightly edgier and therefore more “marketable” PG-13 rating. For comparison’s sake, think of New Year’s Eve as a 2-hour TV sitcom: In its 117 minutes, it contains about the same amount of negative content that the majority of prime-time shows routinely pack into 22. That doesn’t make it OK, but it does help put it in an understandable box. I should also note that Marshall has admirably cleaned things up a bit compared to his last holiday-themed romantic ensemble, 2010’s Valentine’s Day.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.