From the Vault: New Year’s Eve

This post originally appeared five years ago at my old site. I’ve revised and expanded it here in honor of another New Year’s Eve fast approaching.

Every year when New Year’s Eve rolls around again, I can’t seem to stop thinking about the end credits scene from Garry Marshall’s sweet ensemble rom-com, New Year’s Eve (2011).

Yes, New Year’s Eve is maudlin and manipulative, and not all of the loosely tied together anthology segments work well, but it’s also just plain fun to watch this mammoth cast being loose and silly. Hilary Swank, Robert De Niro, Carey Elwes, Halle Berry, John Lithgow, Carla Gugino, Sarah Jessica Parker, and on and on the list goes. And then there’s Michelle Pfeiffer, who manages to make her little story arc feel true, and deeply affecting. She rises above the rest while also elevating her scene partner Zac Efron right along with her.

Michelle is Ingrid, a miserable, depressed loner with no friends and no life to speak of outside of her job—which she impulsively quits early in the film. Teaming up with an unlikely companion, the cocky, young bike messenger Paul (Efron), she sets out to accomplish a series of resolutions before the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Ingrid’s story is touching throughout, and Paul’s decision to stop being selfish and help Ingrid is charming and sweet. Michelle and Zac have tremendous May-December chemistry, and behind the scenes photos seem to indicate they had an awfully good time working together. All of this sweetness leads up the final scene of the film. As the credits roll, Paul drags Ingrid out onto the dance floor, and this painfully shy and cynical wallflower finally blooms.

The two of them dance like Pink’s dirty little freaks to “Raise Your Glass” and, may the gods help me, my heart kind of melts and my well-honed cynicism takes a two-minute vacation. Maybe it’s because I’m also entirely too self-conscious to let myself go on a dance floor that watching Pfeiffer’s Ingrid shake off the cobwebs and just let it all go is absurdly inspiring. She’s silly and free and just flailing around, rhythm and moves be damned. It’s a glorious sight to behold.

Here’s the thing. Life is relentless most of the time. Even the very best days are emotional roller coasters. So much of our time is spent processing and managing the accumulated effects of daily stress. We don’t have as many opportunities as we’d like to be Ingrid on the dance floor at the end, and even if we did, we might be too beaten down by life to take advantage. But then I think of Pfeiffer and Efron just being in the moment, completely unselfconscious, and can’t help but aspire to something like that myself. Take those moments, hold them tight, and really, truly appreciate them while they last.

Who would think this inspiration would come from one of Michelle Pfeiffer’s least essential films? Her ability to shine, even in films that aren’t entirely worthy of her talents, never ceases to amaze me. That’s why, no matter how inessential New Year’s Eve might seem, I have to at least watch that end credits dance scene and blooper reel every single year, either right before or on New Year’s Eve. It fills me with hope for a new year, every year.

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