by Bob Garver
Nov. 18, 2013. Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) got engaged to his girlfriend Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) at the wedding of their friends Lance (Morris Chestnut) and Mia (Monica Calhoun). The happy ending came despite Harper’s temptation to have an affair with old friend Jordan (Nia Long) and Lance discovering that Harper had an affair with Mia years earlier (he forgave them both and got married with Harper as his best man).
Elsewhere in the wedding party, Julian (Harold Perrineau) fell instantly in love with dancer Candace (Regina Hall) and broke up with his annoying girlfriend Shelby (Melissa de Sousa), who at the wedding hooked up with Quentin (Terrence Howard), the swinging bachelor of the group.
“The Best Man Holiday” opens with a montage to try to get you caught up, but the clips make little sense if you’re coming in without a frame of reference to 1999’s “The Best Man.”
The new film sees all the old friends gathering together for a weekend-long Christmas celebration at Lance and Mia’s. Harper wants to be happy that his wife Robyn is pregnant, but is distracted because his writing career is in a rut and he’s having financial trouble. He can get things back on track if he writes a biography of football superstar Lance, but is afraid to ask him for any favors because there are still some hard feelings over the affair with Mia.
Julian just lost a $2 million grant for his school because of a past indiscretion by his wife Candace that puts both the school and his marriage in jeopardy. Jordan is in a happy relationship with a co-worker, but they have a fight early in the weekend that threatens to dampen the holiday spirit.
Shelby has since become a star of trashy reality TV and looks to spend the weekend spreading drama, especially involving her ex-boyfriend Julian and now-wife Candace. Quentin is still enjoying the bachelor lifestyle. Lance and Mia seem to be the most content, happy and open, which in a film like this means that they must be hiding the scariest secret of all.
The story bounces around a lot, so I’ll just share some loosely-connected observations. Harper is a strikingly unlikable main character; he’s deceitful as ever and now he hurts his family with his pride by refusing to take gifts like much-needed money (somewhat understandable) and used baby furniture (no good reason).
Jordan is barely involved with the story, which is surprising considering how much she factored into the first one. It’s actually a smart idea to say that Shelby is a trashy TV star, because the only way to explain her grating mannerisms (which I attribute to de Sousa’s acting and not the script) is to say that she’s been conditioned to speak in sound bites and antagonize people for the sake of ratings. She used to do these things for no reason. On a more serious note, I think Lance’s Christian beliefs are integrated into the story much better this time as opposed to the first film, where they were wedged in as a way of forcing him to consider forgiveness.
Beware, “The Best Man Holiday” is far from the cuddly romantic comedy it’s marketed to be. I knew there would be some conflict, but I wasn’t prepared for the constant hostility, sexually explicit arguing (in front of children no less), and the film’s darkest plot point. It’s handled touchingly, but it’s incredibly saddening. I do think the film is better than the bland original, though that isn’t saying much. It’s curious that this film was made at all, as the original made only $34 million 14 years ago. I didn’t know people were clamoring for it, but judging by the $30 million it made this past weekend, I guess they were.
It’s a gamble that is paying off a bit creatively and a lot commercially.
Two stars out of five.