Forgive me for being controversial but I’ve gotta start with a statement – New Year’s Eve is the worst. Every year around mid-December, the fear creeps in – how am I going to make this New Year’s the one to remember? You plan and fuss for a whole month, then when push comes to shove, your friend ends up hurting his knee trying to do the Cha Cha Slide for the first time and you’re in bed at 2am for work the next day. (or at least, that was my last New Year’s) New Year’s Eve is always portrayed as being the absolute best in pop culture – it’s where every Harry can find his Sally just before the clock turns 12 and tell her he loves her. Thankfully there are also films like 200 Cigarettes, a weird, quirky, unfairly badly-reviewed little 90s film that shows NYE for the trash that it really is.
Just to be clear – 200 Cigarettes is not a “good” film, which is exactly what makes it so great. It’s extremely thin on substance, being set in the 1980s means that its aesthetic choices are extremely questionable, and every soundtrack choice is so obvious that you can guess exactly what will be played the split second before it starts. And yet, there’s some kind of trashy charm about the film that sees me coming back to it this time every year. The film follows several groups of friends all intending to go to the same New Year’s Eve party thrown by Monica (Martha Plimpton) who we see in various fits of despair in her apartment during the night, convinced that nobody is gonna show up. There’s Monica’s cousin Val and her best friend, played by Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman, Long Island girls in the big city who end up getting lost and get taken around the city by friendly goth Casey Affleck. Yes, really. Over on the other side of town, BEN Affleck (both Affleck brothers are in this, guys! It’s basically Good Will Hunting but um… it’s not good, and Will Hunting isn’t in it.) is the object of desire for two warring besties, while Courtney Love gets drunk and decides to try and coerce her best friend Paul Rudd to sleep with her to get over his ex. Other than the party, all these characters are tied together by a good-spirited taxi driver, played by Dave Chappelle. The casting in this film honestly deserves Oscars.
What’s so great about the film is that it’s trash-pirational as well as being very very real to life. No, my friends and I have never fought for the affections of Ben Affleck, (but a girl can dream, right?) but we HAVE stumbled around a city, blind drunk and stressed, missing the countdown to the New Year. It’s this blending of true to life and wildly unlikely that makes the film work in its own quirky way, it throws every “what if this happened to me on New Year’s Eve” fantasy onto the screen at once but there’s something about the bumbling awkwardness of its actors that keeps it oddly grounded. The film’s writer and director throw logic completely out of the window – why shouldn’t Courtney Love and Paul Rudd play best friends? What’s wrong with Janeane Garofalo having a one-night stand with Elvis Costello? And yet somehow, it still works.
Another of my favourite things about the film is the ease in which is portrays so many different shades of fuckboy. Thanks to the fact that the film has both a female writer AND a female director, there’s barely a male character with a single redeeming feature in the film. Paul Rudd, Hollywood’s most charming guy, is utterly obnoxious, moaning about how he wishes he was dead while Courtney Love is forced to listen to his monologuing, Ben Affleck’s a handsome but cringe inducing bore, saying to two best friends – “those clothes look great, but I bet they’d look even better on the floor of my bedroom…”. But worst of all is the womanizing Jack, who, upon finding out that he’s the first guy that Kate Hudson’s loveable trainwreck Cindy has ever had sex with, suddenly thinks he’s god’s gift to earth. “Why me?” he keeps asking her throughout the film, incredulous that a woman’s gifted him the sacred gift of her virginity (ewwwww). Eventually Cindy snaps, shrieking at him that she would have had sex with anyone and that there is absolutely nothing special about Jack, hops in a cab, goes to the party and bangs nice goth Casey Affleck. You get it, sis!
The end of the film sees everyone, like Kate and Casey, Paul and Courtney, conveniently post-coital and coupled up. It may be a bit of a cop-out ending, but the setting of the film makes it clear that not many of these relationships are actually going to last past 2nd of January. And while I wouldn’t say that watching 200 Cigarettes gives you the same sense of relief as, say, watching Ripley fight her way through space in tighty whiteys with mysteriously shaved armpits in Alien, it’s still nice to watch this wacky cast of characters get what they want, even if that’s just in the form of a one-night stand.
So if you dodged the clubs and avoided the fireworks this year, celebrate your smart decision with 200 Cigarettes instead. Even if you made it out and broke the NYE curse, 200 Cigarettes is the perfect comedown viewing. New Year’s Day is a trash day, so why not accompany it with one of the very best trash films?
Words: Grace Barber-Plentie
Images: Maia Boakye