By Clarissa K. Wittenberg

December 9, 2011

Director Garry Marshall should be renamed Cecil B DeMarshall. I thought about listing all the people not in this movie, beginning with Colin Firth, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and even Reese Witherspoon who reportedly turned down a part, but that is too lame an approach to be fun. But seriously, there are so many stars in this film, it poses a challenge to see if you can recognize each one.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher are credited as stars, and then the long list begins. Among the cast of thousands are Michelle Pfeiffer. Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Alyssa Milano, Barbara Marshall, and Seth Meyers. Some actors were flat out awful (can you spell Jon Bon Jovi?), others actually took possession of their parts. Halle Berry broke through the camp tone of the film to actually touch the heart. Robert De Niro should be ashamed of himself for his dying reveries, but actually helped to ground the film by providing a little grit and a lot of facial stubble. He seems to have reached the point where he can relish almost any role. Hillary Swank was awful. Sarah Jessica Parker was Sarah Jessica Parker. Zac Efron was sexy as he teased and then courted Michelle Pfeiffer—who redeemed herself as the film reached its climax.

The City of New York starred as well and the film captures the mood of Times Square on New Year’s Eve with its faux drama of counting down the old year. Babies are born, hearts touched, lovers were abandoned and reunited. Even though the acting was deliberately overwrought—it had to have been deliberate—the film teases the viewer into a good mood and ends up charming. There is a ridiculous level of project placement with Nivea leading the way. But there is a place for romantic comedies and this one isn’t bad. Not every film has to be epic, and lightweight films and good popcorn have saved many a lonely evening or a bad weekend.

NEW YEAR’S EVE (118 minutes, at area theaters) is Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references.

Clarissa K. Wittenberg was a founder and editor of the Washington Review, a journal of arts and literature that documented cultural life in Washington for over 28 years. She is currently Creative Director at the Washington Film Institute.