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MOVIE REVIEW : Jaglom Caps Decade of Romantic Angst With 'New Year's Day'

December 13, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"New Year's Day" (Fine Arts) reveals a new maturity and detachment in film maker Henry Jaglom. For the first time in which he's appeared in one of his own films, he is neither ringmaster nor the center of attention. As both director and actor, he instead contemplates three lovely and different women.

"New Year's Day" caps a decade in which Jaglom, the definitive Hollywood independent film maker, has come into his own as the chronicler of romantic Angst in such intimate and personal films as "Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?," "Always" and "Someone to Love."

Jaglom casts himself as Drew, an Angeleno in mid-life crisis who takes the red-eye to Manhattan on New Year's Eve only to discover that the East 68th Street apartment he has leased has not yet been vacated. Lucy (Maggie Jakobson), Annie (Gwen Welles) and Winona (Melanie Winter) invite him to stay when he despairs of locating a hotel room.

The three women, who have shared the large and expensive apartment for four years, are having to move because Lucy has decided to go to Los Angeles. Of the three, she captures Drew's imagination. That she has worked with dolphins, taught chimpanzees to sign and supplied voices for cartoons--which Jakobson in fact has--suggests her enterprise and individuality.

Dark-haired and intelligent, Lucy is not quite as self-possessed as she would like to be, for her primary motive in leaving New York is to get away from her flagrantly unfaithful boyfriend, Billy, who is played by Jakobson's real-life ex-boyfriend David Duchovny.

Annie, a red-haired beauty who does PR for an art gallery, is devastated by the imminent move for reasons not immediately clear. Winona, the least complicated of the three women, has decided that now's the time to have a child and is on the lookout for a suitable "donor."

The women have invited friends over for an afternoon farewell party, which turns into a sort of frenzied mating ritual. One woman guest even makes off with the pizza delivery boy. With other things on their mind, Lucy and Drew find themselves in mutual retreat, and though they are just ships passing in the night, they have an impact on each other.

Lucy is so radiant and special that Drew is able to admit to her that she has made him feel like an older man for the first time in his life. He in turn tries to boost her self-worth. They are both on the brink of starting new lives, but it's Drew, as a middle-aged man, who is understandably full of misgivings. Lucy disagrees that it's too late for him to expect to find true love.

Jaglom and Jakobson, in her feature film debut, are poignant in these scenes. Yet, Jaglom, the writer-director, is able to pull back from the Lucy-Drew interludes not only to gently satirize the party guests, but to focus on the achingly vulnerable Annie, who is momentarily comforted by an old friend (played warmly by director Milos Forman). After making many brief appearances in Jaglom and Robert Altman films over the last 20 years, Welles has been given her first major role with Annie, a woman with a painful secret, and she is heartbreakingly good in it.

"New Year's Day" (Times-rated Mature) is a small-scale film of much grace and compassion, marked by spontaneity but none of the self-consciousness that marks most films that seem improvised. Drew talks of trying to find "another level of life," while Jaglom has achieved a new level of accomplishment.

'NEW YEAR'S DAY'

An International Rainbow Pictures release of a Jagfilm production. Producer Judith Wolinsky. Writer-director Henry Jaglom. Associate producer Phyllis Curott. Camera Joey Forsyte. Additional photography Hanania Baer, Nesya Blue. Associate editor Ruth Zucker Wald. With Maggie Jakobson, Gwen Welles, Melanie Winter, Henry Jaglom, David Duchovny, Milos Forman, Michael Emil, Donna Germain, Tracy Reiner, Harvey Miller, Irene Moore.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.

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