Review: 'The Best Man Holiday' Offers A Thoughtful Reunion, But Is Emotionally Taxing
The 1999 surprise hit, The Best Man, became everything audiences wanted in a film. It launched several of its cast members into the stratosphere, and jumpstarted a flood of equally classic African American rom-coms. But how does the sequel fare almost 15 years later?
Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee has some explaining to do. He knew that audiences couldn't wait to see another installment of his popular Best Man film, and eagerly anticipated that day with baited breath. Sadly, too much time has passed since then and audiences were left wondering whatever happened to that crew of college friends we've grown to love and admire.
When word bubbled that Lee was putting the gang back together, it signaled a revival of sorts, a return to the roots of what made audiences appreciate films like Love & Basketball, How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Love Jones. Thankfully, it wasn't all a ruse, and we were treated to a cast dinner, which found Lee's ensemble not only still looking good ("Black don't crack."), but involved cinematically within a year full of great works starring, profiling, and directed by black Hollywood talent. The Best Man Holiday caps off a film schedule full of interesting films such as 42, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and 12 Years a Slave. So, this sequel was a welcomed change from the regular "shoot-em-up," drama-filled epics we've come to loathe over time.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, The Best Man Holiday picks up after the events in the original where Harper's (Taye Diggs) first book caused all sorts of drama on the eve of his best friend's wedding. Fast forward a decade plus, and now the characters have all become their own success stories. Lance (Morris Chestnut) and Mia (Monica Calhoun), the couple who almost never were, have seemingly surpassed the original friction and created a wonderful life with a successful marriage, NFL career, and well-behaved children. Jordan (Nia Long), has moved on from her lusting of Harper, and found love in the arms of her new boyfriend named Brian (Eddie Cibrian), who is, well, melanin-deprived. Julian (Harold Perrineau) and Candace (Regina Hall), who met at Lance's bachelor party in the first film, are now happily married with kids. The loudmouths of the group, Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) and Quentin (Terrence Howard) have increased their magnitude for mania by continuing to create trouble for their friends during the Christmas Eve holidays. Lastly, Harper's wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), is finally expecting their first child after years of going to the fertility bank.
All these characters and their successes mask an extra layer, which gets peeled back through Malcolm D. Lee's script. With nearly 15 years having elapsed since the original film, many of the highlights given to the audience as a reminder of what used to be, plays out cluttered and muted. The hijinks that led to creating a whimsical charm in the first movie, return in the sequel, such as the scene where the fly male cast performs an amusing rendition of New Edition's "Can You Stand The Rain". Those happy moments and reminiscent times do little to shadow the light mayhem that stems within the group. Eventually, the picture shies away from the Yuletide spirit to fully immerse itself in melodrama mode, finding everyone in the cast with a little bit of dirt on their shoulders.
But in The Best Man Holiday, it's not the cast who should be the one to blame for seeming to be less fully actualized than before. Lee's script glaringly takes shortcuts, such as in a scene where Julian finds a disturbing video of his wife on YouTube. As a social activist, his character shouldn't really be afraid to confront his significant other about the events he sees, but Lee chooses to go for scandal, which ends up going horribly (and unnecessarily) awry. The instant Lee dives into the sentimentality, he goes way too deep: from the Stepford-esque kids ("too cute and schmaltzy") to the easy-to-telegraph "a-ha" moment that is the big plot reveal — the end result is a lot of groan-induced moans within the theater.
There are moments that even baffle the audience, as we're expected to believe these successful, intelligent, and good-hearted characters have grown from the tensions of the first film, and yet they still descend into an episode of Basketball Wives right in the thick of the film.
For what it's worth, The Best Man Holiday will not be de-constructed by audiences who are looking to nitpick such as this critic is. The comical repartee between the cast hasn't waned over the years, and they all offer some very likable performances despite the ominous plot that looms within the film. The fault of the picture comes from the jam-packed story, which written by Lee, suffers from too many predictable plot points, too many emotionally manipulative moments, and too few clever cinematic moments. Despite the heavy-handed usage of sexuality with religiosity, the ensemble cast — namely Taye Diggs and Monica Calhoun — stand above it all to provide an unbalanced result for fans and audiences.
Almost fifteen years ago, The Best Man exemplified the growing trend within Hollywood that had taken root within moviegoers' consciousness. Now, The Best Man Holiday showcases that regal fineness, that charisma in a film that finds Lee with so much to say about God, faith, fame, and family. The result can be thoughtful and heartwarming, but also quite frustrating and disappointing.
It might not be the holiday gift worth giving this Christmas season.
Don't believe us?! Take a look at the trailer below:
Universal's The Best Man Holiday is rated R with a run time of 122 minutes. It is currently in theaters now.