By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - 'Tis the season for serious Oscar-worthy films, and also for light and frothy romantic comedies featuring more A-list stars than you can stuff into a turkey. Romantic comedy "New Year's Eve," released in U.S. movie theaters on Friday, falls into the latter category.
The follow-up to director Gary Marshall's $216 million global hit "Valentine's Day," the holiday movie stars Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank, Sofia Vergara, Jessica Biel, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Katherine Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker, and many more brand name in smaller roles or fleeting cameos.
In the series of inter-connected stories and characters set against the backdrop of New Year's Eve and the ball drop at New York's Times Square, characters look for love and meaning in their lives as they approach the time where one year becomes history and another is open to possibility.
Jon Bon Jovi plays a rock star who headlines the evening's festivities as he tries to rekindle a failed romance with Heigl's character, who happens to be catering the event.
"Glee"s Lea Michele, making her film debut, plays the rocker's new back-up singer who almost misses the performance when she gets stuck in an elevator with Ashton Kutcher's 'not-in-the-party-spirit' character.
The logistical nightmare of scheduling and filming so many stars was "an enormous challenge," Marshall said. "So whoever showed up, we shot, and we followed their stories."
Many in the huge ensemble cast didn't even meet for the first time until a recent media day to promote the movie as they weren't in the same scenes.
The filmmakers also opted to shoot the famous ball drop and crowds in a sub-zero Times Square on December 31, 2010, making it the first feature film to capture the 106-year-old New Year's event live.
"The biggest thing I helped to do was hug (the actors), not because I was so attractive, but because they were all freezing," Marshall recalled.
Pfeiffer plays against type as Ingrid, a timid, mousy assistant who throws caution to the wind when she makes a deal with Efron's bike-messenger character to help her get a fast start on some long-delayed resolutions.
"Riding (Zac's) motorcycle was a challenge, but the elements were the biggest," said Pfeiffer. "The weather was one and the paparazzi were out in full force ... and Gary was constantly talking Zac and I off a ledge."
Two-time Oscar winner Swank, whose character is in charge of the ball drop, plays De Niro's daughter. She recalled how important it was to her to be able to work opposite the legendary actor. "For me, he's on top of my bucket list, the people I have to work with," she said.
Swank said De Niro, who plays a man dying in hospital and is well known for fully inhabiting his characters, didn't even acknowledge her presence when the two met for the first time.
"So he's just lying there, his eyes closed, and I'm thinking, Wow! He's giving it to me. We are connected here -- me and De Niro! So I start getting a little emotional and we're getting into the mood (of the scene). Then the next thing I know, his eyes blink open and he goes, 'Anyone got that coffee?' And I'm like, 'Oh my God - he was sleeping!'"
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant and Bob Tourtellotte)