The New Year
Directed by: Brett Haley,
Sunday November 14th, 7:15 p.m.
City Stage Theater
Everyone has some sort of relationship with their hometown. Some never leave by design and are quite happy, while others live elsewhere and return at obligatory times with aplomb. Then there’s a third, smaller group who return home for reasons beyond their control. In “The New Year,” writer/director Brett Haley explores the dynamics of home through the life of Sunny, a twenty-something once destined for a life elsewhere, who finds herself back in Pensacola working in a bowling alley as she cares for her ailing father.
“I was taking a train from New York to Philadelphia, and I saw this bowling alley along the way in the middle of nowhere,” Haley says. “And this idea about a girl who has to go back home and ends up working at a bowling alley just pop[ped] in my head. It was really one of those light-bulb moments. It wasn’t personal to me, other than I pictured it in my own hometown of Pensacola, and the stigma surrounding leaving or coming back or staying at home in your hometown.”
Haley, who wrote the film with his sister-in-law Elizabeth Kennedy, manages to create a wonderfully subtle and beautiful piece in “The New Year,” filling the screen with characters that represent different relationships to their home in Pensacola. At the center is Sunny (played by former Wilmington resident Trieste Kelly Dunn), a beautiful, affable, and talented former class valedictorian who has put her life on hold to take care of her dad. Surrounded by boyfriend Neal, best friend Amy and a small circle of friends at the bowling alley, the others around seem content with their lots in life, giving thought to the idea that perhaps she’s become a bit complacent in what her life has become. At its core, it’s an understated character-study on how people relate to place and each other.
“I think going back to Pensacola was a big part of creating this story for me,” Haley says. “When I go back, I see friends who haven’t left, some of them are very happy to be there, and there’s something to be said for that. There’s also something to be said for people who want more, and they’re stuck there and say, ‘Ah, man, shit just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.’ I’m sort of fascinated by how success is measured by what pool you’re in.”
Taking place over the week or two surrounding Christmas, “The New Year” adds other characters who have come home for the holidays, most notably Isaac, a former classmate and half-hearted “nemesis” of Sunny. As their relationship grows and her father’s health worsens, Sunny’s position in Pensacola becomes less and less clear. She’s forced to ask questions of herself that she’s avoided. Thus, she sees her life in a unique way.
Being a tremendous showcase of acting talent—particularly of Dunn who’s in every scene of the film—“The New Year” is garnering praise all over the country as a successful display of story and thoughtful filmmaking. By most measures an impressive feature debut, “The New Year” has given Haley and its cast something to be excited about.
“I’m most proud that I made a film—this small, character-driven piece that has no big-name actors in it [and has] gotten out there as much as it has, and people have responded to it,” he says. “We don’t have distribution, but it’s done so much more, like, make people money. It’s put my actors and myself out more to the world. I’m writing more, and I feel more creatively alive. It was such a good process, and I’m just proud we made it the right way with good intentions.”