Friday, January 1, 2016

Film Review: New Year's Day

"New Year's Day"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

Do you want to ring in the new year with filmmaker Henry Jaglom?

For a lot of people a new year represents a clean slate. A chance to start anew, a fresh beginning. You can forget about the mistakes of the past year and set your life on a new course.

This simple, basic idea has lead filmmaker Henry Jaglom to make "New Year's Day" (1989), an at times well meaning movie that sadly doesn't go far enough.

Most of Mr. Jaglom's movies are well meaning stories revolving around the love lives of an eccentric group of characters, who are usually actors or some other type of artists. Some of his movies work - "Always, But Not Forever" (1985), "Someone To Love" (1988) and "Deja Vu" (1998). But others, like "New Year's Day", are something of a mixed bag.

Henry Jaglom came on the cinematic scene in the 1970s, when American independent cinema was finding a strong voice, thanks in no small part to filmmakers like John Cassevettes, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Peter Bogdanovich. Mr. Jaglom's films often center around female characters and are known for their small scale, personal, almost improvised quality. Mr. Jaglom is not above casting friends and family members in his movies, which add to the intimate setting Mr. Jaglom would like to create.

"New Year's Day" begins almost as a documentary, as the lead character Drew (Jaglom) stares into the camera and tells us he is miserable and because of that misery he is going to leave his home in L.A. and head to his hometown New York.

When Drew arrives in New York on New Year's Day, he finds his apartment is being occupied by three women; Lucy (Maggie Jakobson), Annie (Gwen Welles) and Winona (Melanie Winter) who have misunderstood the terms of their lease. It is almost a situation which recalls Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" (1977) however "New Year's Day" lacks the same likable characters, warmth and humor.

The three women believed that had to leave the apartment after the first of the month. Drew is unable to find another hotel room, so it is decided Drew will stay with the women as they have a final party in the apartment.

The three women, like Drew, are also miserable. Lucy wants to leave New York and head to L.A. we learn she has had a troubling relationship with Billy (David Duchovny) a serial cheater. She must leave New York in order to forget about him. Winona is determine to have a baby by the end of the year. This wouldn't be a problem but she doesn't have a husband or boyfriend yet. She is giving herself three months to find a man with acceptable genes and she will raise the child by herself. Annie is unsure what to do with her life and doesn't want Lucy to leave her behind.

One of the problems with "New Year's Day" is the Drew character. Drew meets these women and in another movie one of two things would happen. Either Drew would learn something about himself through these women or Drew would help the women discover something about themselves. Neither really happens in this movie. The Drew character is an on-looker, observing everyone at the party, claiming they are all insane.

Drew has the strongest interaction with Billy, as they discuss Billy's personality and Lucy, whom despite Drew's protest, we can tell he is attracted to. But the Drew character feels unnecessary because at the end of the day the character has no impact on anyone's life.

Mr. Jaglom plays Drew as if he were Woody Allen. Drew stares into the camera at the beginning and end of the movie addressing the audience in an attempt to teach us life lessons and come up with some clever observations. The problem is Mr. Jaglom is not Woody Allen. Mr. Jaglom lacks Mr. Allen's sense of humor and ability to come up with amusing life observations which have a hint of truth in them. Mr. Jaglom is not a profound thinker, an intellectual. So, his attempts at trying to get "New Year's Day" a deeper meaning don't succeed.

One sequence involves characters talking about taking out personal ads in the newspaper. One character says the reason people do it is because they are lonely and people want to connect with someone. That may very well be true but that is not the beginning and end of that discussion. For Mr. Jaglom it is. That is as profound as Mr. Jaglom gets. If you are going to have this discussion, which in today's terms would include on-line dating, the deeper question to ask is, why are people lonely? Why do people feel the need to have another person in their life? Why does that give us a sense of being complete? Don't people need to learn to accept themselves and be happy with who they are? You can't reply on other people to have a feeling of self-worth. Those questions are never asked.

There is also the question of what does Mr. Jaglom want to tell us about these characters? What is the audience supposed to walk away feeling and thinking from this movie? Love in New York is disappointing? People should learn the terms of their lease? Don't let strangers into your apartment? Women complain about not finding the right guy too often, when they are really the problem?

Nothing is clearly defined in "New Year's Day" however I am grateful Mr. Jaglom actually allowed himself to follow this story and not turn it into one of his "talking heads" movies where a question is brought up and for the remainder of the movie we hear every single character in the movie answer in the question, in a kind of documentary style of filmmaking. That approach becomes repetitive and boring. In 'New Year's Day" at least there are characters to follow with something that resembles a plot.

Of all the characters in the movie, Mr. Jaglom wants the audience to be the most taken with Lucy and wants the audience to sit amazed looking at Maggie Jakobson, whom would go on to greater fame for her work on various television shows. Audiences will probably best remember her as Janice on "Friends". Ms. Jakobson is a likable presence in the movie but that doesn't have to do with anything Mr. Jaglom has created in the Lucy character. I would believe Ms. Jakobson brought a lot of herself to the role. For example in he movie Lucy says she doesn't a lot of voice over work for animated shows, doing all the female characters. In real life that is what Ms. Jakobson did at the beginning of her career.

Unfortunately there is too much missing in "New Year's Day". We don't get a real sense of who these characters are. Nothing is said regarding the issues brought up concerning love, life and sex. The Drew character is not used properly. The audience sits and watches these characters and soon they disappear. The movie is over. What was it all about. Just like any other day in our life, we meet people, time passes, the day is over and we never see those people again. Now what?