Inhaling the New Year with 200 Cigarettes

Back in 1999, we were all waiting for the new millennium and hoping never to hear that song by Robbie Williams ever again. That year my family and I had relatives over from New Zealand and we were all super excited about the fireworks outside and generally having fun. I think I went to sleep soon after (I was 10 afterall).

Fast foward to 2007.

Waiting to bring in the New Year, I watched 200 Cigarettes – I watched it before I went out, just to be clear – which on the surface is just another ensemble film with a cast befitting the 90s/early 2000s, with New Year’s Eve being the backdrop. Set in New York, 1981, a group of people, split into pairs/groups, wonder the streets and drink in dive bars before slowly making their way to a party, where the host is panicking about whether or not anyone will show up. The cast is a who’s who of early 2000s fame, with even Elvis Costello making a cameo appearance. The likes of Ben Affleck, Paul Rudd, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci and Casey Affleck are among the cast, looking so very young, and were all directed by debutante Risa Bramon Garcia, a woman known mostly known for being the casting director on various films and TV shows.

I remember wondering why the film was titled “200 Cigarettes” so I suspect you may be pondering something similar. Well… it’s because, in total, 200 cigarettes are smoked in the film… apparently. I think on the second viewing I tried to count how many were smoked but was too distracted by the 80s meets the 90s costumes.

It would be fair to claim that there isn’t much love out there for this film – it has a very low 28% from Rotten Tomatoes and managed to earn such reviews from Roger Ebert as “maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue”. Perhaps it’s because the characters are a mixture of misfits thrown into a blender, dressed in very stereotypical clothing for 1981 and thrown onto the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve. The individual stories are uninspiring and rather predictable with a few laughs sprinkled on. But, for me, 200 Cigarettes encapsulates what New Year’s Eve is: an underwhelming mess of colour, alcohol, and most likely 80s music.

The two dimensional characters are easy to follow throughout the film as they do not stray from their given formula. Of course, each of them represents someone you are expected to know. And, while you’re trying to figure out whom you are, you can admire the effort that has gone into the listless dialogue and witness what is essentially one long costume party. Generally speaking, everything in the film including the random appearance from Elvis Costello happens for a reason and, over all, it’s not actually too bad. That’s because, for all its flaws, 200 Cigarettes goes through the stages of how we all feel at this time of year: we all want to hope for the future, we all believe in silly curses; we’re just trying to have a good night out (or in). We do all of this, even though we know that when we wake up in the morning, the night before will be ‘just another night’. 200 Cigarettes, with all its doom and gloom of the evening, makes things bright and hopeful in the most hopeful of cinematic presentations, and shall therefore always have a very small place in my heart.

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