The lesson to learn from watching Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve, a predictably insufferable, self-congratulatory cash cow designed to be ingested and then happily discharged without a second thought by gullible moviegoers who just don’t know any better, is that we live in a time without economic dignity, a time in which we must be ready to do just about anything for a paycheck.
The FDR Library is full of Depression-era photographs with titles like Homeless Family on Road, Group of Men Outside an Unemployment Agency, and Men Standing in a Breadline, but we might as well include a film still from New Year’s Eve in this thematic sequence for its similar invocation of existential futility, the sense of resigned submission to the circumstances we’re all sometimes forced to endure in times of collective misfortune. Ashton Kutcher doesn’t necessarily want to be trapped in an elevator with Lea Michele, but when times are tough, the tough get going—even if he has to listen to her sing not one, not two, but three times over the course of the film. Sarah Jessica Parker lets Abigail Breslin convince her that she “just needs a man in her life” in order to stop being such a grouch. Michelle Pfeiffer pretends that she needs Zac Efron’s help to seem cool. And in a classic example of the “over educated and underemployed” stereotype now being played out by twentysomethings all over the United States, we watch Halle Berry and Robert De Niro mugging soullessly at one another in a sad hospital room and we can’t help but imagine them running home later (after cashing the check, of course) to cuddle their Oscars and weep, quietly and alone, in some dark corner.
Jessica Biel and Seth Meyers race to have their new baby just after the ball drops in an effort to win an apparently sizable award for producing the first birth of the new year, but things get complicated when another couple, vying for the same claim, demonstrates more financial need, prompting a heroic intervention against the whims of economic fate. But with writing this bad, no one wins. Lending their famous names and pretty, mostly white faces (rapper Ludacris stands around awkwardly in most of Hilary Swank’s scenes, but strangely it seems like no one but her can see him) to this fluffy ensemble romance, which proves in the end to only be in love with itself, the half-hearted presence of these actors is the ultimate metaphor for the current tragedy facing the creative class, all those would-be architects, poets, engineers, web developers—and, fuck it, major Hollywood film directors—bursting with carefully cultivated talent and an abundance of liberal arts degrees who are now relegated to waiting tables at suburban chain restaurants just to pay the rent for their shitty studio apartments. They’re definitely all dressed up, just like it said on the invitation, but it turns out there’s absolutely nowhere to go.