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Best Man Holiday, The
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by Jay Seaver

"An enjoyable get-together, whether it's a reunion or not."
4 stars

"The Best Man Holiday" is an awkward title that hints that the movie's reasons for existing are purely commercial, or at least that a marketing department felt it would be risky otherwise. Not having seen "The Best Man", it could well be an obvious act of recycling and stretching to include characters that don't fit this story, but if so, then the original must have been pretty darn good, as "Holiday" feels like a welcome reunion even if this one's first time meeting these characters.

In the nearly fifteen years since the first movie, the best man in question, Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) has written some books and joined the faculty at NYU, although both his writing and academic careers are hitting bumps at an inopportune time, as wife Robin (Sanaa Lathan) is in the final weeks of a difficult pregnancy. His agent suggests a biography of his best friend from college, retiring New York Giants running back Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut), and when Lance's wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) invites them to spend Christmas with their family, it's tempting. Also invited are Mia's bother Quentin (Terrence Howard), her best friend Jordan (Nia Long) and her boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian), Lance's friend Julian (Harold Perrineau) and his wife Candace (Regina Hall), and Julian's ex-girlfriend Shelby (Melissa De Sousa).

Harper isn't the only one having money troubles; the charter school Julian and Candace operate has lost a major donor. Jordan's issues are more romantic; Brian is perfectly nice, even if her friends have a few laughs over just how white he is, but she's so focused! These stories are thin enough that characters actually call each other out on not just going about things directly, although writer/director Malcolm D. Lee and his cast are mostly able to make it feel like legitimate matters of pride, confusion, and embarrassment (and, occasionally, just looking for trouble) on the characters' parts rather than the clumsy way comedies often put obstacles in their characters' paths.

Of course, he can do that because there's something else that only comes out in bits and pieces, and the way Lee and company handle this more serious material is almost as well-done as the comedy. It's the sort of thing that can often feel like an abrupt, awkward shift in tone, but Lee shows an unusually sure hand in avoiding the usual pitfalls - even mostly-comic characters like Shelby and Quentin manage to do okay. Lee's more nuanced with religion than many filmmakers telling this story might be, respecting characters' faith while showing the trap it can be for those who pin worldly expectations to it. For all that the back end of the movie may occasionally trend toward clumsiness and melodrama, good sense tends to break out as well. Lee is smart enough to recognize that the audience doesn't really want to see this group fighting and adroitly keeps it to what the story needs.

After all, this reunion happens because the audience has some lingering fondness for the ensemble, and it's not too hard to see why. Taye Diggs is closer to the head of the cast than anyone else, and he really should be a bigger star - he's good-looking, charming, able to get laughs or pathos out of quick changes of facial expression without it seeming like mugging. Morris Chestnut's Lance is naturally going to look a little stiff next to Diggs's Stewart, but it's something that works for the character. Sanaa Lathan and Monica Calhoun are, fortunately, able to be more than the women who are more sensible than their immature men, especially Calhoun, who gets some of the movie's trickier moments. Nia Long is another standout, playing a woman who is both solid and funny and to whom the boyfriend is decidedly second-fiddle. Harold Perrineau, Regina Hall, Melissa De Sousa, and Terrence Howard fill out the cast and make characters who could very well seem extraneous funnier and more well-rounded than they might otherwise have been.

They're good-looking, likable folks in a movie that skews the same way. Lee and company do all right in balancing the one set of characters' financial issues with the other's rather opulent life without it feeling weird, although one might wonder what sort of nanny squad is looking after the eight pre-teens when they're not needed for a scene with the adults. There's also plenty of good-natured, funny raunch passing between the characters that doesn't get mean. The holiday setting gives the movie plenty of color and an upbeat soundtrack.

And by the time it's over, a sequel which would call back to the original more directly may be in the offing, and that doesn't seem like a bad thing. It's a cast worth seeing more of, even if it does mean another awkward title.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24497&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/18/13 23:56:10
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User Comments

12/03/14 Ayana Pendergrass Truly a must see movie for the holidays! Great laughs and so much adult fun! 5 stars
4/10/14 mr.mike It was "no bad". 3.5 stars 3 stars
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