1 January 2014 | StevePulaski
Jaglom's inner-Woody Allen, as stated, is channeled but not fully realized
New Year's Day is what happens when a filmmaker channels their inner-Woody Allen. What you get, as a result, is sort of a mish-mash of visions and a predictably talky affair about a man moving into an apartment in New York after leaving the hustle of Los Angeles in order to continue his life as a writer. Upon arriving at his apartment, he discovers the former tenants - three young, yuppie girls - have yet to move out, misinterpreting the lease that says they must move out by January 1st, not stay in the apartment on January 1st.
In the normal world, the tenants would likely pack up and leave. But since they exist in a drama, they must stay and strike up a conversation with the frazzled, neurotic (!) writer that has graced their presence. The girls get a look at a different side of a male - the less confident, quirky side, while the man gets a look at life and young, impulsive love in the Big Apple. The man is Drew (Henry Jaglom, who serves as the writer and the director as well) and the girls are oddball Annie (Gwen Welles), simplistic Winona (Melanie Winter) and love-struck Lucy (Maggie Wheeler), who is crying to be independent and released from the shackles of her overprotective parents.
Drew connects with Lucy the most, admiring her young impulsiveness, as well as her braveness in terms of facing the world head-on. Her father warns her that packing up and moving away from her girlfriends and looking for a job as a model may result in her being hurt or manipulated, however, it doesn't bother her and believes she can handle being hurt. Meanwhile, Annie deals with the idea of leaving her girlfriends, when there may be something more to that. The last act of the film consists of a party at the apartment, thrown by the girls as a combination between a going-away party and a party welcoming the new year.
The first forty-five minutes of New Year's Day have a kind of fly-on-the-wall perspective I rarely tire of. The film makes us the invisible character at this gathering, at four different characters at a variety of stages in their life and tries to force us to make a connection in some way, shape, or form. Jaglom does this by dialog and a lot of it. The conversational beauty of New Year's Day stems from its improvisation, probably the only way this film could've been successfully done. The film has the natural fluidity of day-to-day conversations, while not forgoing the film's plan, which is showing Drew at his most cynical and neurotic point in life while showing the three girls at their most vulnerable and indecisive.
Furthermore, the film vaguely illustrates the concept of a generation gap I would've liked to see more of. The film sets itself up to play like a picture that showcases character debates based on different stages in their lives and the age difference of the characters (the man is in his late forties, while the girls are in their mid-twenties). However, despite a lot of talking, rarely does it boil down to that. Drew doesn't offer his own moral take on what the girls are doing. For a film with a lot to say, it unfortunately neglects a key-element of the storytelling.
The film's dialog is often potent, in terms of realism and fluidity, however, occasionally uninspired and clearly trying to convey some form of directorial/screenwriter artistry. Consider the scene when Drew talks with Billy (David Duchovny in a very young role), Lucy's boyfriend. The scene should address the generational differences between the two characters but instead focuses on self-absorbed conversation that tries too hard to be artful and more than it is. This is when Jalom's channeling of Woody Allen becomes more evident than ever. Unlike Allen, who can take any character and throw them in any setting with practically anything interesting to say that will always come to a certain point, Jaglom circles around his characters, almost never coming to a distinct point other than to showcase lengthy bouts of dialog.
New Year's Day is an enjoyable indie session, but after fifty-five minutes, it begins to become exhausting, all the more when we're introduced to numerous characters at a party that seem to be nothing more than empty vessels that want to start drama despite all the dialog they spew like sewers. Jaglom illustrates an interesting setup - resolutions, life-altering decisions, and personal struggles on one of the year's most loved days. His inner-Woody Allen, as stated, is channeled but not fully realized.
Starring: Henry Jagolm, Gwen Welles, Melanie Winter, Maggie Wheeler, and David Duchovny. Directed by: Henry Jaglom.