"The Best Man Holiday" Review: Craig's First Take
on 2013-11-13 12:40
In 1999, Spike Lee’s cousin Malcolm D. Lee made quite a splash of his own with “The Best Man”, what you might call a step in the right direction not just for him but for black film. Considering black film now is comprised mostly of Tyler Perry and movies like “Baggage Claim”, and that Lee has gotten stuck directing things like “Scary Movie 5”, kinda cuts my inspirational speech about him short, but this sequel, which is a surprise since I don’t think the first was a major hit, showcases the need for more like this.
Lee is well aware 14 years have passed and thankfully provides recap over the opening credits. From there it’s off to NFL running back Lance’s (Morris Chestnut) house for Christmas where Harper (Taye Diggs) still tries to bury the hatchet for mistakenly sleeping with Lance’s wife (Monica Calhoun) before their wedding. Harper also has a baby on the way with wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) and a struggling career as an author that he hopes Lance can help him with.
The guest list for this party only gets bigger. Julian (Harold Perrineau), a college professor dealing with the problems of having married a former stripper (Regina Hall), Quint (Terrance Howard), enjoying the single-life, Jordan (Nia Long), now an MSNBC producer dating a white guy (Eddie Cibrian) but too independent to admit he’s important to her, and Shelby (Melissa DeSousa), Julian’s former wife and Mia’s friend, now on “Real Housewives of Westchester”, all of which are on hand here.
This all happens at Lance's Poshly-set mansion where the guy best friends, gal best friends, former flames, current spouses, former friends, best friends, and any other combination you can think of playfully, but also honestly and maturely work through their issues regarding sex, friendship, marriage, financial hardship, and even bigger life or death struggles. This cast is terrific across the board, avoiding broad stereotypes in favor of creating smart, good-humored people dealing with identifiable issues. While Howard gets the best laughs in the film (but also surprisingly the least to do dramatically for some reason) the rest do a nice job of finding sincerity and providing honest emotion that could have just as easily collapsed under all the sentimentality. The movie is mostly all talk, but also a tear-jerker that works.
There is also a lot of drama going on in all this, almost to the point where you wonder why the characters aren't sneaking hits at the vodka-spiked eggnog; Lee definitely bites off more than he can chew. And every once in a while “The Best Man Holiday” will veer from straight talk to misguided straight slapstick (black women fighting with each other or a baby needing to be delivered in a car are pretty worn-down jokes) that just seems odd. But this movie is a holiday delight, by no means a classic, but a strong movie about people examining the bonds they have with the people around them and also dealing with what matters most. This is funny, compelling drama and reminds us that more filmmakers like Lee are very necessary.