REVIEW: The New Year

12 06 2017

I’ve quoted this line before elsewhere, but Alexander Payne had a very wise remark about debut features. “They say that often a filmmaker’s first film can be his or her best. Why? Because he or she has been waiting 30, 35 years to tell that story. So a lifetime of whatever it is, frustration or observation, that all comes out.”

In some cases from “Citizen Kane” to “Krisha,” that statement holds some validity. But I tend to also abide by another maxim: never judge a director by their first film. It’s not always the best indicator of their full potential. Often times, they are still learning the tools of cinema and refining their voice. Many a great director has kicked off their career with a less than auspicious debut.

Such is the case with Brett Haley’s “The New Year.” This is a film that, had I seen upon its opening in 2010, would not have led me to believe he was capable of directing something as profound and sincere as his sophomore effort, 2015’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” I watched “The New Year” prior to interviewing him when that film made its rounds on the festival circuit since I needed something to talk to him about. I wound up dancing around the fact that I’d even seen it in the first place.

Haley explores mid-20s ennui and boredom through the experiences of Sunny (Trieste Kelly Dunn), a bowling alley employee back in her hometown to care for her ailing father. Her travails have their moments of sincerity, but “The New Year” feels like a largely insular experience. It’s as if Haley filmed his friends having conversations. The intimacy is there, sure, but he leaves the audience on the outside rather than inviting them into it. The good news, courtesy of writing this review in 2017, is that the film is by no means the upper limits of Haley’s abilities. C+