Because New Year's Eve is a unique movie experience - or at least as unique as you can get from director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate, who subjected us to Valentine's Day just 20 months ago - a standard movie review feels inappropriate to the task of capturing what it's like to be watching. So, in an effort to convey its ineffable magic, here's a pseudo-live-tweet replication of a preview screening.
7:02 p.m.: Montage of our New York City setting, where the Times Square midnight ball drop will be the focal point. Did you know that The Statue of Liberty is an icon that one could use to definitively establish that we are in New York? I was not aware of this fact.
7:05 p.m.: City functionary Claire (Hilary Swank) frets over being responsible for a successful ball drop. We know this because there is expository dialogue to this effect, since it will only be 45 seconds until the next subplot must be established.
7:06 p.m.: Timid secretary Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) is frightened by oncoming traffic and falls into bags of garbage, providing the first convenient metaphor for the film itself.
7:08 p.m.: Two married couples expecting a child - Griffin (Seth Meyers) and Tess (Jessica Biel), and James (Til Schweiger) and Grace (Sarah Paulson) - arrive at a hospital, competing for a cash prize to deliver the first "new year" baby. This is the "slapstick subplot," which on an episode of The Love Boat would somehow involve Charo.
7:10 p.m.: Randy (Ashton Kutcher) talks on the phone with his roommate Paul (Zac Efron), a bike messenger, about how he doesn't want to do anything to celebrate New Year's Eve because he hates it. He then tears down all the New Year's Eve decorations in his apartment building, to account for anyone in the audience who did not hear the expository dialogue.
7:12 p.m.: Sam (Josh Duhamel) leaves an upstate wedding for his responsibilities giving some sort of speech, and to keep some sort of romantic appointment. The improbable ambiguity surrounding the nature of these events creates a temporary rift in the exposition-time continuum.
7:13 p.m.: Laura (Katherine Heigl) caters a big record company party, where her music star ex-fiancé (Jon Bon Jovi) is playing. She will soon slap him in an expression of simmering contempt for his commitment-phobic departure a year earlier. She will smile and essentially forgive him at approximately 7:27.
7:15 p.m.: In what is comically dismissed as overprotectiveness, single mother Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) insists that her 15-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) can't possibly hang out unsupervised with her friends amid tens of thousands of drunken New Yorkers.
7:17 p.m.: Terminally ill Stan (Robert DeNiro) wants to see one more ball drop as he ponders his life's mistakes, and his nurse (Halle Berry) waits patiently for her one big emotional scene.
7:19 p.m.: Ingrid asks Paul to help her fulfill last year's resolutions before midnight; meanwhile, Randy gets stuck in an elevator with his new neighbor, aspiring singer Elise (Lea Michele), who takes 20 seconds to instantly psychoanalyze his entire personality (five seconds longer than it took us).
7:24 p.m.: Sam is forced by car trouble to hitch a ride to the city with a family including the evening's first (but by no means last) comically foul-mouthed senior citizen.
7:49 p.m.: I begin distracting myself by contemplating other occasions where various cast members were romantically paired: Duhamel and Heigl in Life as We Know It; Heigl and Kutcher in Killers; Parker and Bon Jovi in that one episode of Sex and the City.
8:12 p.m. Cut from the broadly comic shenanigans of Griffin and Tess rushing back to the hospital after her water breaks, to the maudlin lamentations of dying Stan, capturing everything that's most absurd about the way these stories are stapled together with no concern for whether any of the individual stories give you reason to care.
8:15 p.m.: Aaaaand cue the inexcusable sop to patriotism.
8:17 p.m.: Aaaaand cue the one PG-13-permitted F-bomb.
8:24 p.m.: Ah, you only thought Character A and Character B were rushing toward a reunion, assuming you could actually keep track of who Characters A and B were.
8:45 p.m.: The ball drops. And unfortunately, everyone involved in the making of this movie was not beneath it.
New Year's Eve
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank, Katherine Heigl
Directed by Gary Marshall