Why 'New Year's Eve' Is a Let-Down

If we must have overstuffed, treacly "ensemble rom coms," shouldn't they at least show a few gay couples, interracial pairings, or unhappy endings?

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New Year’s Eve is not a good movie. Remember that time your roommate threw up all over you and passed out in the bathroom before Dick Clark/Ryan Seacrest had even shown up on the TV? New Year’s Eve is worse than that time.

The film disappoints not only by being tooth-achingly saccharine and remarkably un-funny. It’s disappointing because, as an ensemble romantic comedy inspired by the likes of Love Actually, it had the opportunity to tell at least a couple of non-traditional love stories—and it completely wasted that opportunity.

The poster for New Year’s Eve features no fewer than 19 actors, including some big names like Halle Berry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hilary Swank, and Ashton Kutcher. This is the exact number boasted by the posters for Valentine’s Day (2010), which, like New Year’s Eve, was directed by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) and written by Katherine Fugate. The poster for Love Actually (2003) featured only 10 stars, despite billing the movie as “the ultimate romantic comedy.”

Ensemble movies, though shoddy, might allow Hollywood to take baby steps toward a less predictable rom com.

The romantic comedy is a genre that people love to hate on. Part of that hatred comes from the fact that rom coms are largely movies made for and about women, and hating on "girly" things happens gleefully and frequently these days. It's no coincidence that the few rom coms most people admit to liking, from modern classics like Groundhog Day to newer fare like Knocked Up, are written by men and tell a love story largely from a man’s perspective.

But there are legitimate reasons—you know, non-sexist ones—to dislike the genre. For every quality romantic comedy it produces, Hollywood churns out at least three terrible ones (though of course the same could be said of many other genres). Big-studio romantic comedies are almost always stories about upper-middle-class white people. They almost always portray straight relationships as if they’re the only kind of relationship that exists. And their screenwriters cannot bear the thought of the characters on screen being single once the ending credits role: Kate and Leopold (2001) was so desperate to bring its central couple together that it resorted to time travel to do it.

What’s more, there’s plenty to dislike about the current trend of “smorgasbord” rom coms, featuring multiple stories and protagonists. Movies like He’s Just Not That Into You (2009), Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve, based on advice books or pegged to holidays, are craven and transparent money grabs. They throw dozens of thin, somewhat intertwined plot lines together into the script. And because each of those plot lines is allowed about five minutes of screen time, there's almost no character development, which wastes the talent of the actors. Given this, many people no doubt wish that Love Actually, though it’s probably the best of the smorgasbord rom coms, had actually been the ultimate romantic comedy—as in, the last one.

On the other hand, it is possible that these movies, though shoddily constructed and poorly acted, might in fact allow Hollywood to take baby steps toward a less predictable and more progressive rom com. Maybe.

In Love Actually, Keira Knightley’s Juliet is paired with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Peter. It’s an interracial coupling, which is something we almost never see in romantic comedies with just one central couple. Peter and Juliet’s union is presented as utterly uncontroversial; the interracial element is never noted. They’re simply two people who love each other and who are getting married. It’s true that we don’t see much of their relationship, but what we do see of it is loving and happy. The movie also resists the Hollywood cliché that the couple must end the story together: Laura Linney’s Sarah, who falls for her gorgeous boss Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), decides that her relationship with her troubled brother takes precedence over her love life, and at the end, Sarah and Karl don’t get their Hollywood happy ending.

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Chloe Angyal is a freelance writer and an editor at Feministing. She is currently working on a book about romantic comedies.

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