'The Best Man Holiday' Review

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Universal Pictures

Director Nancy Meyers ('Somethings Gotta Give,' 'It's Complicated') is criticized for writing and directing movies tailor made for upper-middle class white people. They're not bad, simply insidious for painting a fantasy world of luxury where the biggest challenges become surviving family vacations in mansion-sized summer homes. Bougie.

Meyers might take less flack if Hollywood made an attempt to diversify in the slightest. “Minorities” (in quotes because they're just as dominant and important to the success of the entertainment industry and country as the “majority”) deserve their schmaltzy, shiny, melodramadies too, and they stand to be watchable. 'The Best Man Holiday' is the answer to this conundrum.

14 years after Malcolm D. Lee made his feature debut with 'The Best Man,' the director returns with original cast intact for a holiday-themed sequel that proves black people can have “white people problems” too. It's refreshing. Opulence fills every frame, but the lavish background creates a comfort zone for the ensemble to battle it out over friendships, romance, and loss. Lee, who recently cobbled together 'Scary Movie 5,' injects 'Best Man Holiday' with a crass sense of humor that's totally appropriate for the close-knit reality of his characters. Like it or not, emotions during the holiday season swing like a pendulum. Screaming matches, warm embraces, and fits of laughter are tradition. 'Best Man Holiday' hits all of those beats, occasionally too hard, but always in a pleasurable fashion.

Having seen 'The Best Man' is not a requirement for 'The Best Man Holiday,' as the film opens with a stylish credits sequence juxtaposing “then” and “now.” The series' keystone, Harper (Taye Diggs), leveraged the publication of his autobiographical first novel (one that stirred the friend pot years ago) into a full-fledged writing and teaching career. That has fizzeld out when we pick back up with the titular groomsman; writer's block and layoffs at his college job come just in time for Christmas — and his wife's due date. With a new kid on the way, Harper's publisher encourages him to pen a new biography, with his former best bud Lance (Morris Chestnut), a soon-to-be-retired Running Back for the New York Giants, as the subject. Though the two aren't on speaking terms — Harper slept with Lance's now-wife back in 'The Best Man' — financial pressures drive the author to agree. A long-gestating get-together set to reunite the crew becomes the setting for Harper's covert profiling operation.

Everyone arrives to the Christmas party with baggage. Harper's pregnant wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) harbors jealousy towards Jordan (Nia Long), her husband's close female friend. Jordan, now a program executive at MSNBC, is worried that she may not really love her dapper boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian) — and friendly poking fun from the peanut gallery isn't helping (it comes as quite a shock to everyone that Jordan would ever date a white guy). Julian (Harold Perrineau) runs a succesful school with his wife Candace (Regina Hall), but they're the risk of losing a $2 million donation after their investor discovers a YouTube video of Candace working as a prostitute (she used to be a stripper, which is supposed to make it believable). On top of that, Julian is still outrunning the sex-hungry Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), now the star of Real Housewives of Greenwich. And then there's Quentin, rolling in the dough thanks to his successful branding company and concerned mostly with bedding women and smoking pot. Lance's wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) is also in the mix, though her downplayed role leads to the film's biggest revelations. Throw them all in the oven and you have the equivalent of a romantic comedy fruitcake.

With all the spinning plates in the air, Lee never loses track of his players, finding ways to make them charming and despicable at the same time. Comedy is his tool; 'The Best Man Holiday' is rated R and it owns it, slathering the dialogue with foul language and risque sex talk like it's a Seth Rogen vehicle. When Candace and Shelby finally come to blows over Julian, punches fly and F-bombs drop. Some of 'Best Man Holiday's' humor is downright stupid; halfway through the film, the men of the group dress up in sequins vests and perform New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain?” Why? Shut up and watch the movie — let the ladies in the room swoon.

Countering the “naughty” with a bit of “nice,” Lee weaves in a dramatic material that fits snuggle against the sitcom humor thanks to the ensemble's rapport. 'The Best Man Holiday' is set within Lance's Home-and-Garden-Television-would-eat-this-place-up mansion, jumping from heart-to-heart conversation that sound like real people holding conversation. If this was just a movie of Taye Diggs and company drinking eggnog and remembering why they never made time for each other, that would be enough. The cast is that enjoyable to be around (Howard especially is a riotous conversation starter).

But 'The Best Man Holiday' stumbles when it relies on idiocy. There's plenty of infuriating coincidence in the movie — as soon as Harper steers dinner table conversation into a full-blown interrogation of Lance's backstory and philosophy, 'The Best Man Holiday' tests the audience patience for character stupidity. When Mia's secret is revealed, it feels as if Lee had a checklist of dramatic twists that pull on audiences heartstrings. It arrives on top of Lance needing to win the big football and the required “OH NO THE BABY IS COMING!” The fact that over a four-day vacation the group doesn't rescue an injured dog is kind of surprising.

'The Best Man Holiday' ends with the possibility of future 'Best Man' movies. They would be welcome. Lee's film isn't the brightest bulb in the box, but it's a genuine comedy that captures the spirit of the holiday season. Like cinematic alchemy, it turns typically groan-worthy material into watchable fluff. Many of the characters in 'Best Man Holiday' are driven by faith. A lesser script would have stood up and preached. But Lee separates religion and faith to encompass of his characters ideologies. He allows inherent friction to emerge and spark fires — the type of character work Meyers can't quite nail in her films. A studio movie that can make us laugh and think is the definition of a Christmas miracle.'The Best Man Holiday' opens in theaters on November 15.

Matt Patches is a writer and reporter whose work has been featured on New York Magazine’s Vulture, Time Out New York, Film.com, and Hollywood.com. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Operation Kino.

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