You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends in life. Yet if you’re lucky, your friends become a second family to you, there for you throughout the years and even decades of your life. That can be a good thing most of the time, but it can also be really awkward as well – say, if you ever had a fling with someone who wound up marrying your best friend and now you have to see them every holiday season.
That’s the kind of dilemma that’s central to the core of “The Best Man Holiday,” the long-overdue sequel to the 1999 romantic-comedy “The Best Man.” That film starred a cast of some of the hottest young African-American actors in Hollywood – including Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Nia Long and Morris Chestnut - while also marking the writing-directing debut of Spike Lee’s cousin, Malcolm D. Lee.
With its highly positive portrayal of African-Americans twenty-somethings who are successful in the white-collar world rather than gangsters or jive-talking clowns in the vein of Chris Tucker in the “Rush Hour” movies, “The Best Man” became a trendsetter and perennial favorite on DVD and cable TV. And I’m happy to report that the new film is a vast improvement on the original in every way.
The first film followed its characters as they came together for the wild wedding weekend of Lance (Chestnut), a pro football running back who was getting married to Mia (Hall). The conflicts began when Harper (Diggs), a writer who is Lance’s best friend but once had a one-night stand with Mia, was busted by his friends for writing a juicy novel that was a thinly veiled tell-all about his friends’ darkest secrets and romantic entanglements, with a mix of funny and serious consequences ensuing over the course of the weekend.
In the new film, the gang is getting back together for Christmas weekend at the sprawling mansion of Lance and Mia, as Lance is approaching his final NFL game – and the chance to set the all-time rushing record – on Christmas Day. But all is not well, as Mia is secretly very ill and Harper has just lost his New York University professor gig and had his latest novel rejected by his own agent.
Desperate to make money as his own wife Robyn (Lathan) is about to give birth after multiple miscarriages, Harper decides to sneak his way through the weekend, taking notes and trying to convince Lance to let him write his biography. The problem is, Lance is still angry at Harper for the fling with Mia, and for the betrayal of sneaking their lives into his first book.
The other characters have well-drawn conflicts as well, but don’t make the mistake of thinking “The Best Man Holiday” is overly serious or morose. Rather, Lee and his ace cast find an impeccable balance of laughter and tears throughout the film, which has an impressive energy from the get-go while its predecessor dragged through its overlong first hour before catching fire in its second. The zippy and sharply funny opening credits also bring new viewers up to speed immediately, so that those who missed the first “Best Man” won’t be lost.
Lee manages to use the Christmastime setting to genuine effect, rather than feeling like a clichéd backdrop, because the struggle Lance and Mia’s bedrock Christian faith and Harper’s agnosticism forms an important subplot in the film. In fact, the importance of faith and prayer in this movie is almost stunning to behold for an R-rated comedy, as Lee and his cast pivot between the sacred and profane parts of life in a way that I’ve never seen pulled off so well before.
To be sure, there are about 50 uses of profanity, including about 30 uses of the F word and its variations, scattered throughout the film, but mostly in clusters during arguments. There’s also a two-minute, unnecessarily tacky discussion of male genitals and sexual shenanigans that could have easily been dropped, and the two single characters revel in laughing about their promiscuity, while one man also smokes marijuana for comedic effect in a couple scenes and shares medical marijuana with cancer-stricken Mia in another.
However, I guarantee that adults who give this movie a chance will forgive these offenses in dialogue when faced with the overwhelmingly positive view of faith, family, children and prayer that this movie has in addition to its being very funny.
I went to see “The Best Man Holiday” with my friend Clive, an African-American twentysomething like these characters were in the first film. He asked me before the screening why I had chosen this movie to review, expressing surprise that a Caucasian reviewer would care about a film so obviously targeted at the black community.
The answer to that is twofold: on the one hand, yes, “The Best Man Holiday” has this weekend to itself at the box office as the only major-studio release of the week. But far more importantly, it is so well-done and even standard-setting for the romantic-comedy genre that it completely transcends its racial roots and becomes a thoroughly universal movie that anyone can and should enjoy.
If you want to see a romantic comedy done right, “The Best Man Holiday” is easily the best example in many years.