If getting married is difficult—a suggestion made in Malcolm D. Lee's 1999 movie The Best Man—staying married is even harder. That's doubly true when a group of longtime friends with a messy history is forced to confront the skeletons in their closets … skeletons that have rattled their relationships for 15 years.
Lee gets this follow-up film started with Mia Sullivan inviting the same group of friends found in The Best Man to celebrate Christmas with her and her husband, legendary New York Giants running back Lance Sullivan, and their four children. It's a simple enough request—except that nothing about these people's relationships is actually simple.
First up is the fact that Lance's estranged best friend, struggling novelist Harper Stewart, hooked up with Mia right before she and Lance got married—a betrayal the soft-spoken (and, as it turns out, now faith-filled) football star has never forgiven. Now Harper is keeping significant secrets from his wife, Robin, who's nine months pregnant with their first child after multiple miscarriages and struggles with infertility.
Next up: successful MSNBC producer Jordan Armstrong, another ex-girlfriend of Harper's who's now dating a white guy (and the story's odd man out) named Brian. Suffice it to say there's no love lost between Jordan and Robin. And Jordan's brainstorm to reignite Harper's stagnant writing career by having him pen Lance's biography does nothing but exacerbate tensions between Harper and his wife, not to mention Harper and Lance.
Also invited to the Sullivans' lavish estate are Julian and Candace Murch, a couple struggling to raise money to support a school they run—a task made significantly harder by the viral circulation of a nasty video from Candace's stripper days in college. And Julian unwisely decides to talk to his friends about the video before telling Candace about it, driving a deeply divisive wedge into the middle of the couple's marriage.
It's a widening divide that saucy Shelby, a divorced star of a Real Housewives reality program and a former ex of Julian's, is eager to exploit. She's never gotten over Julian dumping her for Candace. And when news of Candace's raunchy video sweeps through the friends—who, rudely, can't seem to stop watching it—it's just the sort of ammunition wily and conniving Shelby isn't above using for her own spiteful ends.
Finally, we have Mia's boozing, promiscuous and rich brother, Quentin. He's a blunt playboy with a penchant for sexting lewd pictures of his anatomy and hitting on the sexiest woman in the room. Which in this case is Shelby.
It's all predictably coarse and melodramatic. But when one of the women reveals that she's dying of cancer, this Christmas reunion among feuding friends takes a surprisingly poignant, Tyler Perry-esque turn.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Intertwined positive themes meander through the messes in The Best Man Holiday. And they might best be characterized in terms of conflicting opposites:
Pride vs. humility. After the best-selling success of his first couple of books, Harper has hit a wall. Not only can't he get published, he's lost his job and money is beyond tight. His friends repeatedly offer to help him, but he's too proud to accept that help … until he's humbled enough to set his own feelings and agenda aside.
Honesty vs. secrecy. Harper hasn't told Robin how bad things really are, not wanting stress at the end of her pregnancy to lead to yet another miscarriage. But he's hardly the only one with a secret. Mia, it turns out, is almost at the end of her losing struggle against cancer, something she and Lance have been hesitant to share with friends. Meanwhile, Julian makes the mistake of trusting his not-so-trustworthy friends with a video showing that his wife once took money for sex.
Forgiveness vs. estrangement. Not surprisingly, things get much worse before they begin to get better for many of the movie's characters. Harper and Lance have to work through their estrangement the hard way; Harper and his pregnant wife have a lot of work to do, too, as do Julian and Candace. Candace and Shelby square off and have to make peace, as do Robin and Jordan. In each case, someone has to choose to let go of legitimate grievances in order to reestablish relationship.
Eventually, the film suggests that since marriage and friendship are so hard to maintain over the long haul, it's only humility, honesty and forgiveness that can smooth things out and keep them vibrant. Along the way, poignant scenes involving the kids in the group emphasize the intrinsic beauty and goodness of family.
At one point, the men have a conversation about what three words they would choose to define the values that shape them. Lance's are "God, family, football." And as the movie progresses, we see that Lance does care deeply about his Christian faith. He's convinced that though no medical treatments have helped his wife, God will come through in their darkest hour to heal her.
We therefore see him frequently praying. And conversations he has with Mia indicate that her own faith has helped her come to terms with the fact that even though God may not heal her, He's still worthy of trust. And though her eventual death devastates Lance, he still clings to his faith.
On the other hand, his flawed humanity is reflected in the fact that he's never been able to forgive Harper for cheating with his soon-to-be wife all those years ago, and at times his temper gets the best of him, leading to profane outbursts. In showing both his strengths and weaknesses, the film portrays Lance in a three-dimensional way as someone who genuinely clings to God but nonetheless still struggles with significant issues.
A conversation hints that Harper helped Lance find Christ much earlier in their friendship. Then, in a role reversal, Harper begins to fall away, repeatedly talking about how hard it is for him to keep believing in God. And multiple conversations in the second half of the film reference the difficulty of following God or having faith in Him when the circumstances of life are tragically difficult.
During Mia's funeral, Harper delivers a message in which he says, "It's tragically ironic that the day we receive the Son of God, He called one of His daughters home. I know that He has a plan. But this one, this one is really hard to accept."
Harper reads an odd book to the kids that repeatedly mentions magical creatures of the Zodiac helping children choose their parents before conception. We hear several Christ-focused Christmas carols.
We see images from Candace's infamous video; they show her at a wild college party, and a couple of topless women are briefly seen. Candace takes money from a man and closes a door, implying she's prostituting herself. (She eventually tells her husband that she was desperate for money and that it was the only time she ever performed a sex act for money.) Multiple conversations revolve around the fact that she worked as a stripper.
Candace begins to perform oral sex on her husband under a sheet. Quentin brags about sexting pictures of himself, and we watch as he takes a snapshot of his crotch (which is strategically obscured onscreen). He sends the picture to Shelby, and it's implied she reciprocates. A postcoital scene shared by the pair in bed implies it's not their first such tryst.
Harper brags about hot pregnancy sex. A ribald conversation among the women revolves around whether or not Jordan, who's dating "the white guy," Brian, will be able to live without a black man's sexual anatomy. (It's clear that Jordan and Brian have a sexual relationship.) That conversation graphically references oral and anal sex, with multiple uses of "d‑‑k." A parallel discussion among the men finds them quizzing Julian about who performed oral sex better, his wife or Shelby.
During a sexy dance routine that the guys do for their wives, Shelby throws a pair of panties at Julian, insisting, "They're clean." The camera ogles Lance, shirtless. Women almost always display cleavage. Jordan is shown from the shoulders up in a bathtub. Ladies wear lingerie. Quips, comments and jokes about various sex acts and body parts pepper the story, with Quentin, especially, rarely going very long without mentioning carnal conquests or making suggestive comments. He repeatedly uses the phrases "t-tties" and "p‑‑‑y." Women are called "headmasters."
A flashback shows Lance punching Harper. Lance takes bruising hits on the football field, then vents his frustration by knocking over benches on the sidelines. He also smashes an iPad in anger. Shelby and Candace get into a brief-but-intense catfight before their friends pull them apart. A similar fight between two of the guys erupts in the backseat of an SUV.
Mia coughs up a large quantity of blood. She also faints and falls to the floor.
Crude or Profane Language
About 15 f-words (five of them paired with "mother) and nearly 20 s-words. God's name is misused 10 or more times (three times fused to "d‑‑n"), while Christ's name is taken in vain three or four times. "A‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑" are used 10 or 12 times each. Sexual slang includes "d‑‑k," "balls," "t-tties" and "p‑‑‑y." Shelby repeatedly calls Candace a "ho" and the n-word gets trotted out quite a lot.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The gang downs many different alcoholic beverages throughout. And it's clear that Quentin is drunk while dressed up as Santa. He also smokes a marijuana joint, sharing the blunt with his dying sister.
Other Negative Elements
Regarding Brian's interracial relationship with Jordan, Quentin rudely asks, "Is this your first journey into the enchanted forest?" then wonders if the white man's relationship with her is a "Django Candyland fantasy." Quentin uses the n-word to describe his friends, and repeatedly lobs the racial slur "monkey" at one of the guys.
Shelby walks in on Julian going to the bathroom, and instead of leaving, initiates a conversation.
Engaging with The Best Man Holiday feels like watching two totally different movies back to back.
By condensing the themes a bit and rounding off the timelines, you can say that the second half focuses on what it takes for friends and spouses who've been at war to resolve their differences. And it begins to unpack powerful and poignant ideas about faith and family, failure and forgiveness. It's set against the tragic backdrop of a young mother's untimely death, an event that puts everyone's self-focused bickering and bitterness into a bigger-picture perspective. And it causes The Best Man Holiday to offer an ultimately redemptive and faith-affirming message.
But the first half is a dreadful and obscene sex comedy drenched with R-rated innuendo and graphic conversations.
Most of us won't get past that first half. None of us really should want to or have to.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Taye Diggs as Harper Stewart; Sanaa Lathan as Robin Stewart; Morris Chestnut as Lance Sullivan; Monica Calhoun as Mia Sullivan; Nia Long as Jordan Armstrong; Eddie Cibrian as Brian; Harold Perrineau as Julian Murch; Regina Hall as Candace Murch; Terrence Howard as Quentin Spivey; Melissa De Sousa as Shelby
Malcolm D. Lee (Scary Movie V, Soul Men, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Roll Bounce, Undercover Brother, The Best Man)
November 15, 2013
Adam R. Holz Adam R. Holz