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The New Year -- Film Review

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Predictable storytelling meets conventional execution in "The New Year," writer-director Brett Haley's slight feature debut, which played in the Los Angeles Film Festival's narrative competition. The film's indie credentials will likely keep it shuttling among film festivals, with DVD or VOD as the most likely eventual distribution outlets.

Two years after former high school valedictorian Sunny (Trieste Kelly Dunn) leaves university to return to Pensacola and care for her terminally ill father, she's still drifting through life, working in the local bowling alley, aimlessly dating nice-guy boyfriend Neal (Kevin Wheatley) and hanging with sassy best friend Amy (Linda Lee McBride).

The return of her old high school rival and stand-up comic Isaac (Ryan Hunter) over the Christmas holiday ignites a spark of desultory verbal sparring between the two, as well as a glimmer of romance, but both sputter out inconclusively.

Haley's script, co-written with Elizabeth Kennedy, neglects to give Sunny either a genuine crisis or a credible catharsis to reshape her life, shifting tonally between small-town drama and bemused comedy. Neglecting to characterize the nature of Sunny's rivalry with Isaac raises more issues than it resolves and although her vague desire to write surfaces periodically, it remains largely unfocused.

Dunn essays a game performance, but she's stymied by a tentative supporting cast with varying charm and enthusiasm. Whether directing his actors or moving the camera, Haley doesn't demonstrate much imagination. While the filmmaking is certainly competent it's rarely striking. Other production values, particularly the Pensacola locations that provide an authentic sense of place, are adequate for the minimal budget.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Cast: Trieste Kelly Dunn, Ryan Hunter, Kevin Wheatley, Linda Lee McBride
Director/editor: Brett Haley
Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Elizabeth Kennedy
Producers: Brett Haley, Elizabeth Kennedy
Director of photography: Rob C. Givens
Music: Austin Donohue
Costume designer: Tara Tona
No rating, 96 minutes