The Best Man Holiday picks up 15 years after the first film, reuniting us with author Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs), who is now expecting his first child with wife Robin (Sanaa Lathan). Harper’s writing career has fallen on hard times after the smash hit Unfinished Business (the catalyst of the drama in the first film), which is why the invitation for a holiday visit with his estranged friend, NFL star Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut), holds certain lucrative career opportunities.
Lance is retiring from the game soon, and Harper sees the chance to cash-in on a biography of the all-star player. However, first he’ll have to stitch the rift between himself and Lance over the infamous affair with Lance’s wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) – not to mention deal with all the drama that comes with having old friends like Julian (Harold Perrineau), Candy (Regina Hall), Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), Jordan (Nia Long) – and of course, acid-tongued Quentin (Terrence Howard) all under one roof again. While both old wounds and new pains threaten the group’s bond, they soon learn that there’s no better time than the holidays in which to celebrate life, love, and good friendship.
In 1999, Malcolm D. Lee brought something truly unique to cinema screens: a story about well-educated and successful young African-Americans that used the art of writing and storytelling as a clever cinematic device for an insightful exploration of the truths and lies that often co-exists within a tight-knit group of longtime friends. While this long-time-coming sequel isn’t as fresh (this is a post-Tyler Perry world we live in, after all) or inventive as its predecessor, it compensates for its more streamlined and sitcom-ish storyline with a bold mix of crude adult humor and weighty emotional drama that elevates it above both the standard dramedy fare and similar “where are they now?” sequels.
As stated, the original Best Man used interplay between fictional narratives and real character interactions to present an engaging story in an interesting way. At its outset (and through most of its first act) The Best Man Holiday is pretty much a checklist of rom-com tropes; it isn’t until the second act begins that Lee finally reveals the heart and focus of his script, suddenly veering his audience into much smarter (and more serious) waters of adult drama. The middle act of the film is its strongest point, as, by the final act, the resolutions of the plot tend to veer back into the warm and saccharine lane of sitcom contrivance. Nonetheless, the core story of the film is an earnest and surprisingly mature one (despite some indulgent moments of low-brow humor), and overall, the sequel is worth the long wait for its arrival.
On the directorial side of things, Lee takes a much simpler approach than he did with his first film: instead of smart editing techniques to create a unique cinematic narrative, we get a rather standard (but more experienced) staging of scenes and sequences, with a lot of scenes relying on the interaction and chemistry of the ensemble cast to provide the hook (a challenge the cast certainly rises to).
The real star of the film, visually speaking, are the lavish settings we find ourselves in for most of the film. The Best Man opened Hollywood up to a seldom-explored world of upwardly-mobile African-Americas, and in this film those characters live in a world of downright opulence, which Lee manages to infuse with a familial warmth that helps to bypass any distracting socio-economic notions or hangups. In short: though most of the film takes place in what looks like a veritable fairytale palace, it never feels like anything less than an intimate and natural home setting.
The real selling point of the movie is its cast. The career paths of the returning cast members in the ensemble encompass a wide range of success (or lack thereof); however, reunited they are all on equal footing and manage to recapture the same chemistry that made the original work so well, with some new additions (or old additions in expanded roles) adding their own flavors to the mix.
Diggs is once again a solid protagonist and focal point for the story; Chestnut gives one of his more nuanced and powerful performances in awhile; Calhoun is given the heaviest lifting and handles her arc with a graceful gravitas; and Terrence Howard once again steals every scene he can get his hands on as the rambunctious “Q,” thankfully keeping things light even when they are at their heaviest or most melodramatic.
Unfortunately the other half of the cast – Perrineau, De Sousa, Hall and Long – are given the more sitcom-ish threads of the story to carry, resulting in some of the film’s weaker (read: cliched and thin) moments. Hot in Cleveland star Eddie Cibrian certainly owns his spot as the token white guy, but Lathan’s character is often more of a plot device than an actual character. Despite some characters getting thin material, both the rapport and repartee are stronger than ever between the matured actors in the cast, so it all works to some degree (though noticeably better at times than others in the episodic progression of Lee’s story).
In the end, The Best Man Holiday is a worthwhile revisiting that manages to push its characters forward in a very mature and emotionally honest way. Best of all, by the time it’s all done, we’re left with the feeling that another visit with this unique group of friends would be welcome… even if we have to wait another decade and a half to get it.
The Best Man Holiday is now playing in theaters. It is 122 minutes long and is Rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity.
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