Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Year's Eve [2011]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (1 Star) Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert’s review
New Year’s Eve (directed by Garry Marshall, written by Katherine Fugate) is a highly commercial celebration of a highly commercial holiday, New Year’s Eve, which follows the formula used last year by the two film-makers to celebrate another highly commercial holiday, Valentine’s Day [2010].  Need one really say more?

As in the case of the previous Valentine’s Day, there is an ensemble cast and various separate and occasionally intertwining stories.  Hence the film was probably relatively easy to shoot, allowing the actors to “come into the studio” to shoot their scenes as their schedule permitted.  The script itself was certainly no Hamlet or Citizen Kane [1941] (nor was it intended to be).

I found the movie both intentionally and unintentionally propagandistic.

First, it was obvious to me that the film-makers wished to make an intentionally secular movie.  The only reference to the other major holiday around New Year’s came near the end when the nurse played by Halle Berry (African American) put on a gown and had a skype-conference with her African Americn soldier husband who was apparently stationed in Afghanistan.  Behind her in the scene and visible to her husband talking to her over the interent was a GIANT SIGN wishing him also a “Merry Christmas.”  That was the ONLY reference to Christmas in the entire movie, and I did find it significant that this reference took place in the context of two African American characters wishing each other a Happy New Year.  African Americans make-up the most church going community in the United States and it _may have been impossible_ to imagine that scene taking place without the Halle Berry character wishing her husband a Merry Christmas as well.

Further, the celebration of New Years with virtually no mention of Christmas (except for the scene above) comes across to me (a descendant of East European immigrants) as something remarkably similar to how these holidays were officially celebrated in the Soviet Bloc during the Communist era.  Indeed, in the Soviet Union, the Christmas Tree was renamed a “New Years’ Tree.”

Now this movie is far too much a celebration of contemporary New York commercialism to be accused of “communist tendencies.”  However, I’ve long seen little difference between Godless Communism and Godless Capitalist Consumerism.  In both cases, all meaning in life ends here.  In Communism, one perhaps seeks meaning in “the building up of man.”  In Capitalist Consumerism, meaning is offered in "assembling the largest collection of baseball cards..."  In any case, we religionists remind everyone that “you can’t take it you...”

Finally, while I suspect that the film-makers did not intend to do this, my many years of serving as a priest in multi-ethnic parishes makes me sensitive to this: It is clear-as-day to me that there is an obvious if perhaps unintentional racial bias that runs through the whole film. The whiter, waspier, blonder, more blue-eyed the character was in this movie (Hillary Swank, Katherine Weigl, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bon Jovi), the more likely the character was in a position of authority / celebrity.  All the more “service oriented” jobs (nurse, police officer, assistant cook, backup singer, repairman, it goes on ... and on ... ) were given to the browner and more “ethnic” people with longer last names, often speaking with very thick accents. 

I found this to be very surprising because it’s 2011 after all not the era of Gone With the Wind [1939] and  Casablanca [1942].  But such it is... and my sense is that 50 years from now, if anyone dug this movie up, our descendants would be embarrassed for our generation's media’s still more or less obvious racist assumptions.

So would I recommend this movie?  As an utterly soulless puff-piece perhaps.  But even then I think that most young people would find the implicit racism of this movie (blond white people in charge, the darker more accented people doing the actual work) rather appalling.

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  1. Good review. I was pleasantly surprised that I actually enjoyed myself with this flick, even though I do feel like Garry Marshall didn’t really try to do anything with all of these stars instead of just have them show up and do something. Still, a fun film that is a crowd-pleaser for sure.

  2. Is it just me or is the "holiday-themed saccharine ensemble-cast-performs-a-series-of-pointless-vignettes" a uniquely American film sub-genre? I think that Thanksgiving is of course, the most obvious thing to hang such a dud of a film around, but failing that, and what with Christmas having been done to death with this kind of thing, it's only natural that we should attempt it with New Years Eve.

    I believe that what film makers are (in some cases) trying to do is figure out what people want to see, and giving it to them. Do we have at least one positive and cloyingly inspirational example of things being exactly opposite how they are in the real world, every five minutes? Check that off. Do we have at least four or five pointless romantic entanglements between characters with no depth or substance, but who look fabulous, and who have bodies that most of the people in the theatre will find attractive? Check that one off. Do we have some disney-fied hackneyed inspirational speeches about how we only have one life to live, so go out there and live the best life you can, and how you only need to believe in the power of your dreams..... I haven't seen the film, but I can almost guarantee it will have that too.

    We are consumers. The producers know exactly what us, the sheeple, the consumers of mass-market films, want to see. And so they give it to us.