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IN SHORT: A lightweight modern comedy
Cranky truly was not looking forward to The Next Best Thing, after reading the movie summary that crossed his desk. The straight woman / gay man make a baby scenario sounded like something soon to be seen on Will and Grace (who apparently got down to doing the nasty in last week's episode). The Next Best Thing, thankfully, doesn't go that route. Madonna talks about the evolution of the script over in CrankyCritic® StarTalk, which also explains the reasoning behind her cover of Don McLean's "American Pie". I'll come back to that.
So, what exactly is The Next Best Thing supposed to be? As a raw idea, it's a workable one. Abbie (Madonna), a single, straight woman in LA -- where "there are no straight men" -- has another relationship collapse under her and hears her biological clock ticking ever louder. She calls on her best friend Robert (Rupert Everett), for solace (They are best friends in each other's lives, though we don't see what exactly brought them together or what they have in common). One really drunken Fourth of July night they acknowledge what they've known all along, that were it not for the preferences problem, they'd be a perfect couple. Alcohol being what it will, twenty four hours later they wake up hungover in each others arms. Nine months later, after much discussion as to what role he is going to play, there is a blessed event. Being a perfectly 90s couple, the pair decide to raise the kidlet together, but not get married (so there won't be any messy legal separation problems if either on falls in love).
Talk about rose colored glasses . . .
That's just the first half of the flick, which includes Everett doing a rave up flaunting every Queen-ish stereotype imaginable, and the funeral of an AIDS victim whose family won't acknowledge the cause, or the deceased's request to have "American Pie" sung at his funeral. It's deadly serious stuff versus raucus comedy and it feels like the proverbial kitchen sink. To be fair, both Madonna and Everett's characters lovingly sling mud at each other's lifestyles, and those elements demonstrating their relationship are funnier than everything else. But if you don't buy the relationship from this first half of The Next Best Thing, the second half is going to be difficult.
That half is seven years down the line, with a beautiful boy named Sam and a relationship holding its own, right down to the separate rooms and beds (kind of like my grandparents. hmm.) Robert maintains a regular dating life, Abbie raises Sam and doesn't seem to be looking for love in any place whatsoever. Until investment banker Ben (Benjamin Bratt) mistakenly wanders into her yoga joint one day. Ping. Quickly, a lesser continuation of My Best Friend's Wedding turns into a lesser version of Kramer vs. Kramer. Lyrics from "American Pie" pop up incessantly and annoyingly in this second half as well.
We also get to see Abbie and Rupert's other friends comment on the relationship. Abbie's are all straight, Robert's gay, which makes the how and why of their relationship all the more intriguing. While the film tries to put all the pieces together, it feels like a number of story ideas stapled together rather than one solid story.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Next Best Thing, he would have paid...
Lightweight date flick. Cranky watched the flick with and without an audience. The Next Best Thing works much better with a crowd -- laughter being contagious and all that. If you're going to go, go with a crowd.
Our West Coast correspondent, Paul Fischer, isn't as kind. His review here
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