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Cynical audiences will no doubt look at the never-ending stream of celebrities lined up to appear in “New Year’s Eve” and assume it’s nothing more than People magazine on the silver screen.

“Ashton Kutcher and Zach Efron lead the cast?” they’ll say. “Bah! I’m sure its just the kind of cotton candy that only a teenaged groupie could love.”

Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alyssa Milano, Jessica Biel, Seth Myers, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Lea Michele, James Belushi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin and on it goes – I either just whetted your appetite for the red carpet or convinced you this movie has more plastic surgeons on staff than scriptwriters.

But to be completely cynical about “New Year’s Eve” would do the film a disservice.

Yes, it does pack too many celebrities in to adequately develop characters. Yes, it is like a People magazine on the silver screen.

But it’s like People magazine permanently parked on 2 Timothy 1:7.

 

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear,” 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

And the entire message of “New Year’s Eve” is a challenge to overcome fear, usually with the power of forgiveness, for the sake of love.

As for the sound mind part? Um … OK. Maybe not.

True, “New Year’s Eve” isn’t a particularly good movie. It isn’t well-written, it’s rarely funny enough to earn the title of “comedy” and it really does suffer for trying to cram too many storylines into one script.

But not everyone on board with this project was willing to make a stinker of a celeb-fest.

Michelle Pfeiffer, for example, turns in a very convincing performance as Ingrid, a frustrated, mousey secretary who has lived a wasted life with a list of New Year’s resolutions she’s never endeavored to fulfill. But when desperation leads her to fulfill resolution No. 1 – “Quit my job” – Ingrid begins to cast off the shackles of fear and actually live her life.

Halle Berry and Cherry Jones also stand out as actresses who play their respective roles with heart.

And while the script flirted with the humanist mantra of “following your heart, following your dreams,” as though self-actualization were the chief end of man, I couldn’t help but be encouraged by something more.

“New Year’s Eve is all about another chance,” says Hilary Swank in a somewhat syrupy but still poignant speech, “a chance to forgive.”

When her character later takes her own advice, it demonstrates the healing power of forgiveness.

The film’s final narrative further affirms love and hope.

But it was the words of the redeemed playboy character in the film that packed the most punch.

Standing before an audience of people his father once addressed, the young man gives a speech reminiscent of “carpe diem” that resonates all the stronger for having Ingrid’s battle with her own fear and insecurity as the backdrop.

“What would you do today if you knew you would not fail?” he asks. “Now go out and do it. … I know it’s risky. Go out and do it anyway.”

For all the fears we harbor, the ones we face and refuse to face, “New Year’s Eve” presents a bold challenge: When we live in fear, we aren’t really living at all.

Content advisory:

  • “New Year’s Eve” contains roughly 20 profanities and obscenities, though they rarely intrude on the script.

 

  • The film contains very little violence, limited to a woman who (twice) slaps a man across the face and mild car accident.

 

  • The film contains no sex scenes, but that doesn’t mean the film is mild on sexuality. As several of the characters are involved in romantic relationships, and as a fair amount of the film is about who will kiss whom on New Year’s Eve, there are dozens of sex jokes and innuendos. Several females in the film dress to show off curves and cleavage. While there’s no attempt to flirt with an R rating in the film, the humor is far more TV sitcom than Sunday morning.

 

  • The film has some minor religious themes, including an Eastern spiritist midwife who leads her pregnant patient in meditation exercises, her Hindu medallion and a generic, church wedding scene. There is also a pastor and his family who “adopt” a wealthy playboy bachelor for a long road trip, and their casual but friendly faith is actually portrayed as positive and has a healthy effect on the bachelor.

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