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Case Number 11421: Small Claims Court

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New Year's Day

Paramount // 1989 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 21st, 2007

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All Rise...

Unfortunately for Judge Patrick Bromley, all is not quiet in this film. Stupid U2, and their lies!

Editor's Note

Our review of Henry Jaglom Collection, Volume 2: Three Comedies, published May 29th, 2013, is also available.

The Charge

Time to move on…

The Case

Sitting through Henry Jaglom's New Year's Eve is like being stuck at a party you don't want to be at but can't leave. Everyone there talks and talks about topics they think are deep and profound so that they can be proud of themselves for being deep and profound, but no one ever really contributes anything new to the dialogue. There's a lot of emotional wheel-spinning going on, but we never really get anywhere.

This goes on and on.

The story—and I use the term loosely here—goes something like this: fortysomething Drew (Jaglom) is recently divorced and burnt out on California life, so he heads to an apartment in New York for a change of scenery. When he gets there, he discovers that the apartment is still being occupied by three twentysomething female tenants: Lucy (Maggie Wheeler, The X-Files), a voiceover actor heading for the West Coast, Annie (the late Gwen Welles, Eating), a manic depressive who's just sworn off men, and Winona, a free spirit determined to have a baby. From there, a revolving door of guests come and go to and from the apartment (including Return to Me's David Duchovny and director Milos Forman) with no real purpose other than to pretend to be interesting.

I should acknowledge that while I recognize that writer/director Henry Jaglom has a very distinct personal style (the emphasis is totally on dialogue, much of which is improvised), I don't really respond to it. To me, he's a bit like James Toback without the edge. That's not to say that he hasn't made some good films, but New Year's Day is not one of them. It is a tedious exercise in would-be profundity about relationships and the generation gap lacking in even a point of view. That Jaglom has written himself into the proceedings in the role of "observer" makes no sense; as the director of the film, he is already taken on the role of observing this behavior. To stand in front of the camera and do the same thing not only makes his function entirely too literal, but also redundant.

The film's saving grace is the central performance by Maggie Wheeler, who plays Lucy, and who viewers might recognize from her recurring stint on Friends as Janice, Matthew Perry's horrifically nasal ex-girlfriend. Jaglom reveals on the commentary track that accompanies the DVD (more on this later) that meeting Wheeler (who at the time of filming was Maggie Jakobson, and is credited in the movie as such) was his inspiration for wanting to make New Year's Day, and it's obvious that much of the movie is designed as a showcase for her. She's natural and funny and immensely likeable, and one wonders while watching the movie why she never became a bigger star.

Paramount's disc of New Year's Day is just as modest and unceremonious as the film itself. It features an anamorphic widescreen transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1; the image is soft and colors aren't very bright, making the movie look just as old and washed out as it really is. Because there's essentially only dialogue on the soundtrack (I may have counted only three instances of musical accompaniment), the 2.0 mono track is just fine for handling the movie's audio components.

The only extra feature on the disc is a commentary track by writer/director Jaglom and stars Wheeler and Duchovny. Not surprisingly, the commentary is more enjoyable than the movie; surprisingly, it somehow manages to make New Year's Day seem better than it actually is. Aside from the obvious star appeal of the track (Duchovny is as deadpan funny as ever), the commentary illustrates just how autobiographical the movie is. Wheeler and Duchovny used to date in real life, for example, and their breakup in the movie is informed by their real-life experiences. Knowing that lends the film some additional credibility, artificial as it may be. The commentary also affords Jaglom the space to explore and explain his intentions in making the movie. Admittedly, if a director needs an entirely separate forum to defend his film, he hasn't done a very good job in the first place; still, though, hearing Jaglom's thoughts on New Year's Day can help to convince you that the movie succeeds. That is, until you watch it again and realize that it doesn't.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary by Henry Jaglom, David Duchovny, and Maggie Wheeler


• IMDb

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