While Happy New Year strives to raise viewers’ awareness of the life modern American vets lead after war, writer/director K. Lorrel Manning’s rehab drama is so trite that it’s unwittingly insensitive. Cole Lewis (Michael Cuomo, who also co-wrote the story Manning’s script is based on), a disabled Marine, is an independent-minded vet now at the mercy of the apathetic VA health care system while he undergoes physical therapy. After being suddenly moved from one hospital to another, Cole bonds with PTSD-afflicted ward mates, like Jerome (The Wire‘s J.D. Williams) and romantic interest/nurse Lisa (Monique Gabriela Curnen). Cole does not, however, befriend Martinez (Jose Yenque), a cookie-cutter bureaucrat administrator who, as the angelic Lisa says, “everyone knows is just in it for a paycheck.” Martinez and ill-timed stress-related flashbacks stymie both Cole’s recovery and Manning’s characterization. Cole’s character arc is consequently contrived to the point that he becomes a meaningless symbol of institutionalized neglect. Eventually, Manning and Cuomo turn him into a pathetic martyr by making his health conditions worse than his seemingly indomitable resolve. That kind of abruptly bleak tonal shift divides Happy New Year into two different mediocre parts. The first is about a man with real problems, which he can magically overcome by forging a community of his own. The second concerns a man whose real problems overwhelm him and reduce him to tears before he becomes a statistic. The latter story is more honest, but because it’s expressed as inarticulately as it is, that’s not saying much.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 5, 2012