Best Man Holiday, The (United States, 2013)

November 14, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Best Man Holiday, The Poster

In the normal course of things, a sequel would be unlikely for a 14-year old film whose box office performance, while profitable, wasn't exceptional. (The Best Man, made for about $9 million, grossed north of 3.5 times that during its theatrical run.) However, in today's risk-averse climate, where familiar characters placed in predictable narratives are desirable, Universal Pictures saw an opportunity for a holiday-themed success by greenlighting Malcolm D. Lee's The Best Man Holiday, a follow-up that resulted from a desire on the part of the cast and filmmaker to make a reunion.

(It seems to me there's an apostrophe-s missing from the title, but maybe that's being picky.)

Like the original The Best Man, the comedic aspects exist to provide some levity to a screenplay with drama-based inclinations. The Best Man Holiday, however, suffers from melodramatic oversaturation and an ending that seems determined to offer closure to even minor subplots - and there are plenty of those. Although the first half is an appealing mix of mostly understated humor and light drama, the second half trajectory tends toward the obvious and director Lee turns up the manipulation as he pilfers shamelessly from Terms of Endearment, one of the worst films ever to win a Best Picture Oscar. After starting out as a character-based ensemble piece, The Best Man Holiday turns into a predictable affair determined to hit as many familiar beats as possible while striving to wring tears and cheers in equal quantities from its audience.

The Best Man Holiday catches up with most of the characters from The Best Man about fifteen years after the earlier film. Harper (Taye Diggs), the author whose book caused unpleasantness in the first movie, has fallen on hard times. He and his wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lanthan), are expecting their first child, but he's out of work, blocked as a writer, and drowning in debt. He accepts a Christmas party invitation from his estranged best friend, Lance (Morris Chestnut), and Lance's wife, Mia (Monica Calhoun), in the hope that he might be able to nab the rights to pen Lance's biography. An NFL star, Lance is approaching retirement with a chance at breaking the all-time rushing record. Also spending the weekend at the festively decorated New York-area mansion are Harper's ex-flame, Jordan (Nia Long), and her new boyfriend, Brian (Eddie Cibrian); couple Julian (Harold Perrineau) and ex-stripper Candace (Regina Hall); brassy and bitchy Shelby (Melissa De Sousa); and flamboyant, uncensored Quentin (Terrance Howard). Over the course of the few days spent under one roof, old wounds are re-opened, new injuries are created, and a tragedy brings everyone together.

Some of the things that rubbed me the wrong way are likely to be embraced as crowd-pleasing elements. That's the way it goes with viewer manipulation. Lee is unquestionably adept at playing on the audience's emotions, but there's no subtlety in the way he goes about it. His orchestration of Lance's final game and the events surrounding it are designed to generate maximum impact even though they're so overcooked that it's almost impossible to take them seriously. Is it a really a spoiler to say that it all comes down to a 4th-and-goal play in a close game with only a few seconds remaining on the clock? The entire screenplay is pitched on this level. It's written to be appreciated on a superficial level and, for those looking for something shallow, it works.

Although this is an ensemble piece, some actors have more screen time than others. Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun, and Nia Long would be considered the leads, with the story being told from Harper's perspective. Diggs plays him with warmth and respect; he's a flawed man desperately trying to reclaim a past success while struggling with the twin challenges of impending fatherhood and unemployment. Likewise, Morris Chestnut's Lance offers an atypical portrait of a football player: intelligent and compassionate, he lives by the creed of "God, Family, Football." Chestnut's portrayal is authentic and credible. On the female side, Monica Calhoun gets all the best scenes, and plays them with Kleenex-selling capability, although Nia Long and Sanaa Lathan are nearly as good. Stealing scenes left and right is Terrence Howard, who's on hand primarily for comedic relief and fills that role admirably.

Although the trappings are those of a Christmas movie - there are lights, trees, and a surfeit of mostly modern carols - The Best Man Holiday would work as effectively viewed in June as in December. (Although I don't think I've ever heard Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song" used for the purposes employed here.) It's very good at what it sets out to do. The problem is that it doesn't aim particularly high and, when the tears have dried and the cheers have subsided, there's a sense that what the movie offers is disappointingly ephemeral. Movies about the inevitability of mortality should have a more lasting impact but the crowd-pleasing mentality underpinning The Best Man Holiday guarantees that it's easily forgotten once the end credits roll.

Best Man Holiday, The (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: 2013-11-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1