Movie Review: “The Best Man Holiday”

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The_Best_Man_HolidayEven though I’m very much out of its demographic sweet spot, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for “The Best Man.”

That 1999 romantic comedy/drama, directed by Malcolm Lee, was part of a long line of African-American “buppie” ensemble films of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and probably the most popular. I have no memory of the circumstances under which I first saw it, but it’s one of those movies that I’ve probably watched the second half of a dozen times on cable over the years.

Now, the director and entire cast of the first film are back for a sequel, “The Best Man Holiday,” picking up the characters almost 15 years later and at very different stages of adulthood.

“The Best Man Holiday” is not lazy, and it deviates at times from the formula of the original film. Is it broad and cliched? Yes, and it’s not nearly as fresh as the original.  But I still very much enjoyed it.

It’s much better done than those “American Pie” sequels that get wheeled out every couple of years. And like those “American Pie” movies, you can see a clear contrast between the actors who still appear on screen regularly, and those who haven’t been in anything in years.

The original film concerned a group of friends in their mid-20s, getting together for the wedding of NFL star Lance (Morris Chestnut) to Mia (Monica Calhoun), with the best friend of the groom Harper (Taye Diggs) spending the weekend trying to hide that not only did he once sleep with the bride, but that he wrote about it in his soon-to-be-published autobiographical novel. Also in the mix were hard-driving career woman Jordan (Nia Long), horndog groomsman Quentin (Terrence Howard), and nice guy Murch (Harold Perrineau), struggling under the thumb of his nightmare girlfriend Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), before meeting a sweet girl who’s a stripper (Regina Hall.)

Now, it’s a decade and a half later and Lance, about to retire from the NFL, invites the whole gang to his house for Christmas. Harper is married to pregnant Robin (Sanaa Lathan), Lance and Mia have four children but something is clearly amiss. Murch is married to Candace the ex-stripper and running a school, but her past is threatening to surface. Shelby is a Flavor of Love alum-turned-Real Housewives cast member. And Quentin has continued his trademark loutishness, which provides the majority of the film’s laughs.

As with the first picture, we get a strong sense of shared history of these characters, though I’m still wondering why Mia didn’t excommunicate Harper for proposing to Robin during her own wedding reception. There’s once again a big secret- a couple of them actually- there’s joy and tragedy, and the film stays true and respectful to its characters. Even Shelby, the out-and-out villain of the first film, gets some positive shading.

There’s also quite a bit of humor, including plenty of references to things that weren’t on the radar in 1999, like Barack Obama, Scandal, and various technologies. The film’s one white character (Eddie Cibrian), a suitor of Long’s character, even gets called “Robin Thicke.”

And the film looks absolutely fantastic, and only because of the beautiful home and furnishings as well as beautiful people.

Another refreshing thing about “The Best Man Holiday”? It’s the rare, non-explicitly Christian mainstream film to actually give consideration to religious faith and take it seriously.

Sure, there’s some silly stuff, mostly related to the football and reality TV material. Because one cast member was a Real Housewife, it has to turn into a Real Housewives episode for five minutes at one point.

As for the sports stuff, the film manages to work in a hokey sports climax even though it’s not even a sports movie. Due, I’m sure, to some weird deal with the NFL, the film is allowed to use the names of real teams but strange, wrong-looking versions of their uniforms and logos. And Morris Chestnut is 44 years old, a good decade older than every currently active NFL running back.

With the huge success of another large-cast, mostly African-American ensemble comedy/drama, “Think Like a Man,” we’re likely entering another era of large-cast black ensemble films, and not necessarily requiring Tyler Perry’s involvement. “The Best Man Holiday” is strong enough that a second sequel wouldn’t surprise me at all- especially since its ending sets one up explicitly.

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