Directed by Christin Baker (also known for Season of Love) and written by Kathryn Trammell (Season of Love), I Hate New Year’s (2020) follows rising music star Layne Price (played by Dia Frampton) who is experiencing writer’s block. On her L.A. manager’s insistence, she visits a mysterious fortune teller Zelena (Candis Cayne), whose vague advice she misconstrues. Heading home to Nashville for New Year’s Eve, a holiday she hates, Layne hits the town with BFF Cassie Holmes (Ashley Argota). While Cassie plans to finally confess her feelings have evolved into more than just friendship, Layne is too focused on “bumping into” her elusive ex to notice. But through this one crazy, New Year’s Eve, Layne learns to find both inspiration and love – with a little mystical intervention – where she leasts expect it.
What really bogs this film down for me is the severe lack of tension for nearly the entire run time, up until the last 30 minutes. Even before Layne goes to Nashville, her manager Toni (Tamiko Robinson Steele) makes it clear that she does not want anyone to know that Layne is in Nashville as it would cause a fuss. However, when Cassie almost instantly convinces Layna to do karaoke ‘undercover,’ and people immediately recognize Layna, Toni is upset at first, but then deems it a good thing that Layna is out on the town because of all the good social media press it’s getting. So not even halfway through, and that’s one conflict established in the beginning that’s resolved. Now the majority of the main conflict comes from Layna and Cassie searching the city for Layna’s ex-girlfriend, with the underlying conflict being Cassie’s romantic feelings towards Layna and Layna developing feelings for Cassie.
Herein lies one of the other problems of the film: the scripting and pacing. There’s a combination of lack of stakes and multiple contrivances. For example, since the film does take place in modern day and the main character’s have access to social media and their phones, the reason they can’t just ask Layna’s ex Caroline (Kelly Lynn Reiter) where she is, is because she has been ghosting Layna since they broke up. However, when we finally meet Caroline and learn how she dealt with the breakup (which at this point was a few months ago), it begs the question why Caroline hasn’t at least texted Layna or why Layna didn’t at least try to text or call Caroline. In the context of the film, Layna’s trip to Nebraska has gone viral, so it also begs the question how Caroline didn’t see or hear at all that Layna was in Nashville.
Likewise, the whole crux of the film lies in the fact that Layna believes she needs to reconnect with Caroline in order to cure her writer’s block. While that is a good, simple framework for this story that also has some stakes because Layna is only in Nashville for a limited amount of time, where the story falls flat is with Cassie’s underlying feelings for Layna and the tension that starts to brew between them. Again, inherently it’s not a bad story choice and lends itself to a good climax, but the problem is unlike with Caroline, there’s really no urgency when Layna and Cassie split up. They’re best friends, and there’s nothing to say the next day or even later that night they can clear up their misunderstanding and admit their true feelings. With Caroline, you could argue that New Years Eve was the only night Layna could track down Caroline since everyone is out partying, but Cassie and Layna are staying together for I presume at least a few more days, so we know as an audience that Layna can just go back to Cassie’s and clear things up. So the climax to the film feels less pressing, besides that it’s just what Layna wants to do before midnight.
The plot is extremely repetitive, mostly following Cassie and Layna as they go from place to place, hang out, get back in the car, talk, and go to the next place. There was also this character played by Candi Cayne (“The Magicians,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Elementary”) who initially appears as a psychic that convinces Layna she needs to go back to Nashville. Then, in Nashville, Cayne not only plays Cassie’s driver, but she also breaks the fourth wall, hinting that she does have some magic powers. When I first saw this, I thought that Cayne would appear around town as various characters who help move the plot forward. But for the rest of the film Cayne is only the driver, which felt like a missed opportunity. While I thought Cayne did a good job in the film, her character felt very pointless. She never moves the plot forward as the driver, only acknowledging things that are happening, but not because of anything we see her do. While one could argue that as the psychic she moved the plot forward, Layna was planning to go to Nashville anyways, and there’s nothing to say she couldn’t have decided for herself to go after her ex. There were also some extremely awkward editing choices and scene transitions. Once or twice where the scene would just fade to black and then the next scene would start with the music blaring. I only noticed this once or twice, but it was still quite distracting.
The film does have a few things going for it though, one of it being the relationship between Layna and Cassie. I thought their dynamic was extremely well written and even with the slightly predictable script, I ended really caring about them and rooting for them to get together. Yes there were a lot of scenes of them just hanging out, but they are really fun characters to watch hang out and get closer as the night progresses. The relationship was also heightened by Ashley Argota (“The Fosters,” “Lab Rats,” Broadway’s The Lion King) who I felt gave the best performance in the movie. I couldn’t quite get into Dia Frampton’s (runner up in “The Voice” and lead singer of Meg and Dia) performance initially, but I felt it got better as the film progressed, and by the end she totally won me over. I also felt that all the songs were good. All of the songs sung by the characters were written for this film, which is certainly not an easy thing to do, especially since there are more than five original songs, but I thought it paid off. All of the songs thematically fit with the state of the character when they sing it, and I like how the final song Layne sings is teased earlier. There also seemed to be a huge love for Nashville which really helped bring the city to life and make the film feel more alive.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
While I Hate New Year’s has a good soundtrack, and a well developed relationship between the two leads who do admittedly have great chemistry, it unfortunately isn’t enough to make up for the film’s overly predictable story, severe lack of tension, forgettable side characters, and a magical twist that ultimately had little to no payoff. For a lighthearted romantic comedy of this nature, the film also severely lacks comedic beats, and even then very few jokes land. I hope to see more features that are geared towards a younger/teen audience that feature lgbt+ protagonists, something that I loved and felt was very unique about this film. Hopefully, though, those films feature a more dynamic and well-crafted story.