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Yes, Virginia, there is a Garry Marshall
December 14, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
Considering how shamelessly schmaltzy, shallow, utterly unbelievable and yet entirely predictable it is, it’s a little embarrassing to admit I kind of enjoyed “New Year’s Eve.”
Which isn’t to say that it’s a good movie, or won’t give your brain the equivalent of cavities with its high-sugar content. Or that you don’t watch it with a little voice in your head repeating, “Oh, c’mon now,” if not, “gag me.” It’s just that the experience fills you up in a not unpleasant way, like the celluloid equivalent of comfort food.
It’s the latest in what’s becoming a franchise formula for director Garry Marshall: star-packed holiday movies about holidays … a two-hour-long Hallmark card, or an issue of Us Weekly that moves. He did something similar — assemble a huge A-list ensemble, then set them in motion doing things that are aw-shucks cute, or touching, or tear-jerking or, just for good measure, patriotic, on crisscrossing, sometimes intersecting paths in a less-than-24-hour time frame — for Valentine’s Day.
For “New Year’s Eve,” the cast includes Jon Bon Jovi as a rock star; Katherine Heigl as a catering chef; Sofia Vergara as her sous chef; Abigail Breslin as Sarah Jessica Parker’s rebelling teenage daughter; Zac Efron as an cool courier wooing frumpy Michelle Pfeiffer; Jessica Biel as Seth Meyers’ pregnant wife; Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michelle as a cute couple stuck in an elevator; Halle Berry as the nurse of a dying Robert De Niro; and Hilary Swank as the woman responsible for making the ball drop over Times Square. There are lots more stars, including, of course, Hector Elizondo, without whom no Garry Marshall film is complete.
“Love Actually” in 2003 was state of the art for a big-ensemble holiday films. “New Year’s Eve” shows what happens if you set the bar lower. Still, it managed to win at the box office this week.
I forgive Garry Marshall more than lesser directors for his excesses, precisely because he’s so good at them. And hilarious, too, even —or especially — when the cameras aren’t rolling. He used to be a frequent Maui visitor, and even shot a film on Lanai, “Exit to Eden” in 1994, although the less said on that subject the better.
Beginning with iconic ’70s TV hits like “Happy Days” that launched the careers of Ron Howard, Robin Williams, Penny Marshall and countless others; through his “Pretty Woman” face-lift of big-screen romantic comedies, which launched the careers of Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway (and … and…), he clearly knows how to entertain.
He’s a master of lightly toying with audiences’ emotions, without going too deep, or, heaven forbid, engaging their brains. But as opposed to dumbing us down cynically, he does it with lots of laughs and a huge heart.
Katherine Fugate’s script doesn’t require anyone to actually, um, act, and is way overdrawn at the contrivance bank. Still, Sofia Vergara and Michelle Pfeiffer manage to shine anyway. And Manhattan is an uncredited co-star, looking gorgeous in winter coats in what turns out to be a love song to the city.
While Marshall will never be mistaken for a high-brow, his imprint on our culture is gigantic —not only in his own body of work, but in those generations of geniuses he shaped and mentored.
He may be a lowest-common-denominator guy, but at least no one’s got a gun in this movie. He leaves it to the film to aim for the heart. Now that he’s going the big-cast route, his projects are reminiscent of screen visionary, the late Robert Altman.
Everyone onscreen, many of them mighty in the celebrity universe, seems happy to have just been invited to the shoot. The movie is one big party, literally, leaving the audience glad we got to come, too.
My family’s holiday traditions range from the eccentric —lighting up the house for Thanksgiving, listening to Christmas music by Tuvan throat singers and Bela Fleck —to the oh-so traditional: Paul Horn playing Christmas carols on his flute or the always ethereal Haleakala Waldorf School Holiday Faire.
And, when it comes to holiday movies, we give thanks for the blessing of FirstLight, Maui Film Festival’s annual gift to island film fanatics, and, arguably, the best film series on the planet.
FirstLight director Barry Rivers just added next Monday to the schedule with “Pirates of the Caribbean” at 2 p.m., “The Help” at 5 p.m. and Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” at 7:30 p.m. He also added Martin Scorsese’s amazing “Hugo” at noon on Dec. 26.
Barry must be trying to keep his streak alive, showing every eventual best-picture Oscar winner on Maui before the nominations are even announced. Judging by early awards from boards and critics in New York and L.A., he’s off to a great start.
See you there.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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