Friday, November 15

REVIEW: The Best Man Holiday

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
2013 Comedy Drama
From Universal Pictures
2 hours

Taye Diggs
Morris Chestnut
Terrence Howard
Sanaa Lathan
Nia Long
Monica Calhoun
Harold Perrineau
Regina Hall
Melissa De Sousa
Eddie Cibrian

This is, they say, the long-awaited sequel to 1999s The Best Man, which I didn't see.  Ordinarily, I don't see sequels but decided to give this a try for three reasons: (1) I didn't see the original so I can see this with a fresh approach, (2) I love this cast and (3) as many of you know, I am a sucker for this Big Chill-type story.  Wrap this one in a big red bow for Christmas and all the days that follow.

It could be called a Christmas story for grownups.  It deals with  love, friendship, laughter, anger, sadness, trust, forgiveness, birth and death.  It's a little sugary, a little spicy.  It's both a bright comedy and an emotional drama, full of great lines that made me laugh and cry.  Sometimes I wasn't ready for the laughter because I wasn't quite done with my tears.  Damn, I love films like this.  I think it's one of the best to highlight friendship in some time.

That doesn't mean everyone always gets along.  Some characters have undoubtedly brought baggage from the first incarnation.  There is jealousy and doubts over past relationships and concerns over present connections.  Among the nine friends there were so many interconnected stories that at first I didn't think I was keeping up.  Eventually I not only settled in and becames eager to see where all this was going.  For a short spell I was concerned it might turn into that romantic-comedy drivel I loathe.  

These are longtime friends, rivals and former lovers, including some who are married to one another.  A wealthy football star and his sickly wife gather their pals to their mansion for a long holiday get-together.  This is not a reunion since they live around one another but it is an opportunity to catch up as a group over the holidays.

The drama of the story centers around the prickly relationship of the proud and successful football star, played by Morris Chestnut, and Taye Diggs as an author who is financially hurting because he needs a new bestseller.  They are two who have not kept in touch and being back together is questionable at best.  Chestnut is married to Monica Calhoun who opens her home with the expectation that everyone will be happy although that may be short-circuited when she spills her less-than-cheery news.  Diggs is married to Sanaa Lathan, crotchety with late-stage pregnancy.

Harold Perrineau is a college professor dealing with career problems when a video of his wife, a former stripper, appears on the internet.  She is Regina Hall who has a serious issue with Perrineau's obstreperous former wife, Melissa De Sousa, who is also part of the college group and therefore in attendance.

Nia Long is a single professional woman who works for a TV network and has a new relationship with a white man (Eddie Cibrian).  I'm uncertain what Terrence Howard's character did for work or if it's even important to know but he is an irrepressible single guy enjoying his life a very great deal.

No matter how you slice it, this is a sparkling cast.  They should be up for the best ensemble on those award shows that do such things.  The warmth and panache and interplay among these nine people lay in the fact that they have not only worked together before as actors but that these characters really are old friends.  It shows.

There is no doubt that quite a goodly number of attendees for this film will be there because of the participation of Chestnut and Diggs, eye candy for the masses.  The two actors really deliver the emotional goods of two fractured friends who lead very different lives and may never find their center.

I was enormously impressed by Monica Calhoun, whose work I am unfamiliar with and that's going to change.  With an angelic face, she possesses a silky elegance, great dignity and grace and is certainly the emotional core of the film.

I like Sanaa Lathan... I really, really do.  I have seen her in several films and she seems to find her way to characters who are wrestling with happiness.  Being a guy who's into faces and all they reveal, I see a sadness in her that I sometimes find disquieting.

Nia Long usually plays sassy, strong characters and she gives more of that here.  Perrineau, Hall and De Sousa's characters have a lot to sort out, the latter being the one friend the others wish wasn't.  There is a hot physical fight between Hall and De Sousa.  I am so there for girl fights.

Most surprising to me was Terrence Howard who delivered the film's funniest lines.  Who knew this dude was such a hoot?  I didn't and I have seen him in one movie after another, especially lately.  It is interesting though that he has about the least to do with the dramatic part of the story.  Clearly the biggest movie star of the bunch, it seems odd that he wasn't given more to do with the major plot points.  Nonetheless, thanks for the many laughs.

One bit of laughter came from a montage sequence with all the couples having sex in their respective bedrooms after their long first day of visiting while Nat King Cole sings about chestnuts roasting on the open fire.  The guys had gotten their ladies' attentions by performing a sexy dance.

Malcolm D. Lee, a cousin of Spike Lee, directed the original Best Man, which, in fact, was his first film.  He acquits himself quite well in guiding his cast to spot-on delivery and for keeping the  pace breezy, the story coherent, the transitions smooth.

The whole audience seemed to be chattering as we left the theater.  I'm always eaves-dropping on conversations and in the middle of hearing seemingly everyone say what a good time it was, one middle-aged black woman said, "Well, it's about time," and then went on to tell her companion that we need more films like this.  She said she was tired of thug movies and tired of Tyler Perry and Madea, too.

Silently I couldn't help agreeing with her.  If you're black, spend your money and buy a ticket.  Hollywood pays great attention to ticket sales.  If you're some other color, you see it, too, because it glows with the entertainment factor and has a boundless energy.  Word of mouth should bring about good business.

Now, I gotta see if I can get a hold of that original.

Review of Big Sur

Answers to Picture Quiz II
from November 12

  1. The Mirror Has Two Faces
  2. Gorillas in the Mist
  3. Suddenly Last Summer
  4. Son of Paleface
  5. From Here to Eternity
  6. Love Me Tender
  7. Amistad
  8. The Long, Hot Summer
  9. American Beauty
10. Hud

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