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New Year's Day

Paramount // R // December 5, 2006
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted December 15, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Picture yourself at a cocktail party where you don't know anybody, and once they start talking to you, you immediately realize you want to be somewhere else. That's "New Year's Day," a rambling, self-absorbed indie drama from Henry Jaglom, the filmmaker whose very name is synonymous with rambling and self-absorbed.



"New Year's Day" was an early hit on the art house circuit for Jaglom, the actor-turned-writer/director whose film before this one, 1988's "Someone To Love," gained notoriety as marking Orson Welles' final screen appearance. Jaglom would later find success with titles such as "Eating," "Last Summer in the Hamptons," and "Venice/Venice," the latter being made on location while he was busy showing "New Year's Day" at the 1990 Venice Film Festival.



The film crawls with that late-80s independent cinema sensibility, with a genuine energy coming from a cast and crew gathered to tell an intimate story with almost no budget. Unfortunately, that energy can't sustain an empty story about uninteresting characters.



Jaglom plays himself, more or less, a writer named Drew who flees Los Angeles when he suddenly craves change in his life. And so he arrives in Manhattan to begin again (on January 1, hence the title), except the previous tenants of his new apartment haven't yet moved out. The film follows the rest of this day, with Drew hanging out with these three young women and, later, their friends who have come over for a get-together. They talk, and talk, and talk some more, about life and love and all things that are supposed to be philosophical but sound like a bunch of spoiled types talking out of their asses.



"I don't even know what I want," announces one of the women, and it's true for all of them. But instead of using such dialogue to capture the angst and soul-searching found in all of us, Jaglom turns the whole thing into a big whinefest. We just can't care about these people, their bland relationship issues and lack of direction. Hearing them strain to discuss the deeper meanings of life becomes irritating all too quickly.



Despite its emptiness and obnoxiousness, it is somewhat of a notable failure. Forgoing a screenplay, Jaglom had his cast improvise all dialogue, without rehearsal, resulting in an Altman-esque chaos of overlapping words and ideas. The on-screen activities seem fresher, more real; with only a few speeches scripted, the rest becomes the free-flowing thoughts of the actors themselves.



"New Year's Day" also holds a bit of novelty value thanks to the casting of a young (and, in one scene, quite nude) David Duchovny in the role of a problematic boyfriend; Maggie Wheeler (here credited as Maggie Jackobson), who gets all the best moments as the film's only likeable character; and director Milos Foreman, who pops by for a few scenes. (More novelty: Duchovny, playing Wheeler's ex, was Wheeler's ex in real life, too. Again, Jaglom shows a strong desire to blur fiction and reality.)



But a failure is still a failure. Jaglom lays on the starting-over symbolism thick, trips over himself in trying to psychoanalyze the power of women, and gets so swept up in the ideas of talk-heavy party-as-movie and reality-as-fiction that he loses track of any engaging storytelling that might have come about.



The DVD



Video & Audio




The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer, while not impressive, makes the best out of the film's soft, subdued photography. The talk-heavy film doesn't need any spiffing up, as its original Dolby mono soundtrack suffices. Optional English subtitles are included.



Extras



The lone bonus is a chatty commentary from Jaglom, Wheeler, and Duchovny. We get to listen to some old friends reminisce about what was obviously a very wonderful experience for all involved.



Final Thoughts



Jaglom fans will appreciate the enjoyable commentary, while everyone else will be bored with a film that never takes off the way it wants. Rent It.
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