Back in 1999, we were all waiting for the new millenium and hoping never to hear that song by Robbie Williams ever again. My New Year's that year we had family over from New Zealand, were all going crazy with the fireworks outside and generally having fun. I think I went to sleep soon after (I was 10 afterall).
Fast foward to 2007. Waiting to bring in the New Year, I watched 200 Cigarettes. I watched it before I went out, just to be clear. On the surface its just another ensemble cast, befitting the 90s/early 2000s, with New Year's Eve being the backdrop. Set in New York, 1981, New Year's Eve and a group of people, split into pairs/groups, wonder the streets, drinking in dive bars, slowly make their way to a party, where the host is going crazy, worried no one will show up.
The cast is a who's who of the early 2000s fame, plus Elvis Costello making a cameo appearance. The likes of Ben Affleck, Paul Rudd, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci and Casey Affleck are among the cast, looking so very young. They were all directed by Risa Bramon Garcia, mostly known for being the casting director on various films and TV shows, but 200 Cigarettes is her only film director credit.
Why is the film called 200 Cigarettes? Well, its because, in total, 200 cigarettes are smoked in the film, apparently. I think on the second viewing I tried to count how many were smoked but was too distracted by the 80s meets the 90s costumes.
There isn't much love out there for this film, with a very low 28% from Rotten Tomatoes and earning such reviews from Roger Ebert as "Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue." There isn't much out there either and with good reason. The characters are a mixture of misfits thrown into a blender, dressed in very stereotypical clothing for 1981 and thrown onto the streets of New York on New Year's Eve. The individual stories are uninspiring and rather predictable with a few laughs sprinkled on. But, for me, it encapsulates what New Year's Eve is, a complete underwhelming mess of colour, alcohol and mostly likely, a 80s soundtrack.
The two dimensional characters are easy to follow throughout the film as they do not stray from their given formula. The characters represent people we know, we may even be that character so their struggles we can relate to. The exaggerated costumes make it easy to remember that you're watching a film, one long costume party and while you're trying to figure out whom you are, you can admire the effort that has gone into the listless dialogue. Everything in the film, including the random appearance from Elvis Costello, happens for a reason and over all; it's not too bad.
For all its flaws, this film goes through the stages of how we all feel this time of year. We all want to hope for the future, we all believe in silly curses; we're just trying to have a good night out or in. We do all this, even though we know that when we wake up in the morning, the night before was just another night. But in true cinematic light, 200 Cigarettes, with all its doom and gloom of the evening makes things bright and hopeful. In most cases anyway.