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Although entertaining, New Year's Day leaves a craving for substance

NEW YEAR'S DAY

Written and directed by Henry Jaglom.

Starring Maggie Jackobson, Henry Jaglom, Gwen Welles, and Milos Forman.

By JIGNA DESAI

NEW YEAR'S DAY is a modest yet ambitious film that entertains but leaves one craving for more realistic substance and less stereotype. Henry Jaglom, the writer and director, opens with a monologue directed to the audience on his need to start anew, to lock up his house in Los Angeles and move to New York City on the symbolic eve of the new year. Upon arriving in NYC after an apparently grueling red-eye flight, Jaglom, now playing the character Drew, finds three women who have been living together for four years and who are still occupying his apartment.

A misunderstanding with the lease results in the four of them spending an intimate New Year's Day together discovering many of the similarities in their situations. Each one wants to move onto the future, but must first confront the present. This conflict is partially portrayed through the parade of friends and family who, depending on their motives, come to either bid farewell or hinder the roommates.

Drew watches and interacts with the visitors with a wary scrutiny, trying to discern each person's intent and relationship with the women -- especially Lucy (Maggie Jackobson) -- while searching for further understanding and new perspective to his own mid-life troubles. This is precisely what New Year's Day invites the audience to do: reflect, observe, interact, and learn.

But the film falls short of capturing contemporary social and interpersonal interaction and is touched by a didactic triteness instead of an inspiring realism. The themes of finding new beginnings from old ones and of the similarities of human experience are depicted heavy-handedly, and one feels bludgeoned by the message. This lack of subtlety is seen clearly in the closing of the film as Drew once again addresses the camera with a soliloquy on the inter-connections of future and present.

The characters, with the exception of Lucy and Drew, are stereotypes of a self-absorbed New York culture; Winona (Melanie Winter), a wannabe-mother photographer, and Annie (Gwen Welles), the obsessive, shy roommate, are not full or realistic characters in which the actresses can showcase their talents.

Although the relationship between Annie and Lucy is probed, more of the film could focus on Annie's declaration of love and its affect on Lucy. Instead, Annie is left behind, and the camera focuses once again on Lucy and Drew. Their relationship is also quite sexual; Drew seems to have trouble removing himself, especially his hands, from Lucy. In fact, many of the men in the movie come off as over-sexed jerks (complete with lines about how they had forgotten how to feel until a beautiful young woman -- in this case Lucy -- transforms them).

Lucy and Drew learn from each other that moving on is difficult but possible. Jaglom recognizes the complexity of sex roles, especially those of his gender, and is not afraid to portray males in an unfavorable light. The unbelievable promiscuity of Lucy's boyfriend, Billy, further illustrates this. His callousness and insensitivity are humorous yet disturbing. Milos Forman makes a guest appearance as the building superintendent whose friendship with the women seems patronizing and intimate.

Jaglom's directorial talent is most visible in the character of Lucy whose own life-experiences -- working with dolphins, teaching chimpanzees sign language, and doing voices for cartoons -- are deftly incorporated into the film. When Jaglom blurs the line between fiction and reality he truly captures nuances of the personal in contemporary society. To further develop the realism created in Lucy, Jaglom suggested that Jackobson's philandering ex-lover, David Duchovy, play Billy in the film. Jackobson initially refused and then reconsidered and found that the scenes were liberating as well as humorous -- life imitates art imitates life.

New Year's Day hits upon some familiar angst-ridden anxieties of contemporary culture but fails to render them memorable or realistic. Still, Henry Jaglom is a director with an eye for the intimate and personal, and definitely one to keep an eye on.