Unseasonable Treacle Makes for a Bad Holiday
It’s been 15 years since NY Giant superstar running back Lance (Morris Chestnut) married love of his life Mia (Monica Calhoun). For the first time since their wedding, they are reunited with their closest friends. Author Harper (Taye Diggs) and his wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) are expecting their first child. Man-eating reality television starlet Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is failing miserably at single motherhood. Music industry impresario Quentin (Terrence Howard) is as big a lothario now as he ever was a decade-and-a-half ago. Jordan (Nia Long) has become extremely successful running a Cable network and maybe has even found the right man to share her life with in the form of dashing lawyer Brian (Eddie Cibrian). As for educator Julian (Harold Perrineau), he did marry fantasy woman of his dreams Candy (Regina Hall), and while all looks great on the surface behind the scenes things aren’t near as serene for the couple as everyone assumed it to be.
It isn’t required that a person buying a ticket for The Best Man Holiday has seen returning writer/director Malcolm D. Lee’s (Undercover Brother) 1999 debut The Best Man, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. The opening credit montage does do a fair job of bringing people up to speed, however, reminding everyone just why former best friends Lance and Harper are estranged as well as making sure we know what everyone else has been up to. It’s clear why the group hasn’t reunited in 15 years, making their Christmastime coming together both long in coming as well as slightly suspicious, at least as far as narrative melodramatics are concerned.
For about an hour I could have cared less how obvious and slightly schmaltzy so much of this story was. Why? It’s sadly rare that this collection of actors is granted the opportunity to excel or the freedom to craft such three-dimensional character as they are here, and while none of them stray too far from stereotypical archetype that happily doesn’t make them any less multidimensional. Diggs, in particular, is wonderful, while Howard’s easygoing masculine charms are deviously seductive. Lathan and Calhoun are excellent, each grounding their Robyn and Mia in a real world naturalism bellying the more treacle-ridden aspects of the scenario Lee crafted for them. De Sousa is also terrific, stealing scenes left and right with glossy showmanship. Yet she also hits just the right emotional nuances when Shelby’s selfish inadequacies are thrust before her in ways she cannot ignore, giving the character an extra layer of depth I wasn’t anticipating.
All of which makes the second hour’s turn into unbearable soap opera theatrics all the more unfortunate. Where Lee was allowing things to move at their own measured pace, wasn’t trying to throw the emotional histrionics into the audience’s face and was content to let moments of gentle, adult-tinged humor to add a layer of mirth and warmth, once a certain twist involving Lance and Mia is introduced all bets are suddenly off. The melodrama bit by bit begins to overwhelm things and characters start acting like idiots out of a bad dinner theatre production, while anything even close to resembling subtlety is unceremoniously thrown out the window.
It’s a mess. More, it didn’t have to become one. The first half showcases eloquently that stories of depth and meaning don’t necessarily have to be wholly original in order to be successful. Lee has a handle on how faith and religion can be, maybe even should be, discussed and displayed in dramas such as this, Harper and Lance having some great, entirely believable discussion on the topic I found movingly sincere. The characters are all interesting even if the problems they’re facing are somewhat facetious, each actor grounding them with genuine humility and grace meaning any viewer no matter their race or background can easily relate to.
But when the bottom drops out it does so with a thud that reverberates throughout the entire theatre. What was unforced suddenly is crammed down the throat with unceremonious didacticism. What was once understated becomes frustratingly maudlin and overbearing. Lee dispenses with anything resembling restraint in order to make sure his themes are heard as loud and as clear as possible. It becomes increasingly unbearable as things go along, and as such destroys the picture making watching it start to finish with a smile on your face practically impossible.
There is nothing worse than when a good movie goes bad, especially when it is one that you didn’t initially expect to be as strong and as enjoyable as it happily starts out to be. Between motion pictures, 14 years is admittedly a long time, so even with its original cast all returning there wasn’t any question that expectations for The Best Man Holiday were relatively low. That Lee’s sequel initially exceeds expectations is worthy of celebration. The fact it falls so incredibly flat and becomes a miserable melodramatic waste of time equally worthy of derision.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)