The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Let's start with the disclaimer: The Best Man Holiday is the sequel to The Best Man, a 1999 dramedy I haven't seen, meaning thematic and story connections between the films almost certainly went over my head. As such, I'm only able to review this as a standalone installment, rather than a piece of a longer story. There's a popular perspective that this shouldn't be a shortcoming in my ability to review a work, as movies supposedly need to be able to stand on their own. I do not share that ideology - I believe that presumed context isn't an unreasonable assumption on behalf of filmmakers and that those of us lacking that context should at the very least be upfront about it. Hence this paragraph.

I don't feel quite as bad about this as I sometimes do, because the bulk of what I have to say is going to be positive and most of my complaints relate to story beats and character choices wholly contained within the narrative of this film. On top of that, I found everything in The Best Man Holiday easy enough to follow without background simply because everything significant was established in the first act, as you'd expect from a competently written and directed movie.

The story picks up fourteen years after the original film, which established relationships between four men and five women, including the two main characters: a professional writer named Harper and a football player named Lance. I'll focus on Harper and Lance to keep things relatively concise - every character has at least one plotline, and I'm pretty sure every main character had some sort of relationship with every other main character, so it would be extremely time-consuming to try and cover everything.

The previous movie seems to have been largely about Harper having had a one-night stand with Lance's fiancé (now his wife), Mia, resulting in a falling out between the lifelong friends. When Holiday opens, Lance is preparing to retire after an incredibly successful career, while Harper - now married with a wife nine months pregnant - is at a low point in his career. He and his wife are invited to spend the holidays with Mia and Lance, a prospect Harper initially dismisses until his agent convinces him that writing a biography about his friend could restart his career. Harper plans to discuss the book idea with Lance, but he hesitates when he discovers Lance is acting coldly towards him.

The movie takes its time revealing it, but it turns out Mia, who'd initiated the Christmas gathering, is dying of cancer, a fact Lance is unable to confront. Deeply religious, Lance maintains a miracle will materialize. Harper abandons the idea of the book entirely when he learns Mia is dying.

Lance and Harper begin repairing their friendship, but this falls apart when Lance stumbles across a mockup of Harper's book proposal and notes. Lance lashes out, telling Harper he doesn't want to see him again. Mia confronts her husband and gets him to back off a bit. She also convinces him to play football on Christmas Day, something he'd been reluctant to do, as her health was deteriorating. Lance wins the game and rushes home in time to be present for Mia's last few minutes.

Harper delivers a powerful eulogy at the funeral, and he makes amends with Lance. Harper's wife then goes into labor, and - due to heavy traffic - the baby is delivered by Lance in the car, despite complications. Following all this, the two men repair their friendship, and Harper writes a biography with Lance's help.

That's the A-plot, and it comprises maybe a third of the movie's runtime. Maybe. Like I said, everyone has an arc in this, and there are a lot of characters. Harper's wife, Robyn, is contending with fears about her pregnancy after multiple miscarriages, body issues around her weight, and concerns related to her husband's fidelity (there's a whole other set of misunderstandings around this). Then there's Murch, who discovers an online video revealing his wife, Candace, was formerly a sex worker. Jordan is trying to balance her independence with a new relationship. Q has yet to mature as a person. Shelby, a reality TV star, is dealing with lingering feelings for Murch and resentment towards his wife.

In short, there's a lot. And all of it's given time to breathe, resulting in a two-hour runtime. To its credit, the movie doesn't feel overlong - it's got a great deal to get through, and it uses its time well. 

Let's talk tone. This is a blend of comedy and drama, and it weaves the tones together skillfully. This is one of those movies where the comedy is used to make you like the characters, making their pain more relatable. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee does a good job mirroring the highs and lows of life, communicating the idea that growing older is complicated and messy.

But while this is strong overall, it has some notable weaknesses. As is common for comedy, some jokes and character traits didn't age well. For example, Q has a habit of sending women dick pics, and - while it's intended to be somewhat gross - it's ultimately portrayed as a silly, harmless, and arguably endearing trait, rather than, you know, sexual harassment. I also question whether having so many of the women motivated by jealousy towards each other was really the best option. To be fair, the same emotion is at the center of the movie's two male leads, but it still felt a bit lazy at times.

All that being said, the women were presented as wholly developed characters, and - while I might quibble with some aspects - the narrative clearly condemns characters who fixate on sexual history and the like.

My other main complaint centers around the movie's reliance on clichés, though - again - I'll need to hedge this criticism in a moment. The plot is built around several staples of drama, the most obvious being the character dying of cancer at Christmas and a baby being delivered on the way to the hospital. You could add in several others, such as women motivated by jealousy and resentment towards each other, a misunderstanding caused when a love interest is comforting someone, and the sporting event that comes down to a single character regaining their motivation. The events driving the action aren't particularly fresh.

But, again to the movie's credit, it remains good throughout these clichéd situations. A lot of that's due to the cast, which sells every line of dialogue and every emotional beat. But the dialogue and direction are also consistently good. I can't quite say it makes the clichés feel fresh, but the movie managed to maintain my interest regardless. 

Moving on to Christmas, the holidays perform a couple functions here. First, thematically the film focuses heavily on faith, which is presented as Lance's primary motivating factor. He insists that they'll bear witness to a miracle, and he's proven right, though it's not the miracle he most wanted. Christmas, of course, is a useful shorthand for implying the presence of faith or magic, and the film makes use of it in that capacity.

I'm more interested in the other main aspect, however: the idea that Christmas is symbolic of the end and rebirth of the year. This is depicted quite literally here, with Mia dying on Christmas Day and a baby born soon after being named after her.

Of course, the holidays also serve as an easy catalyst for bringing people together. Also, since Lance was already established as a football player, the tradition of Christmas Day football made for a convenient tie-in.

Overall, this is a solid film. It's well enough made and acted, I'm tempted to mark it "highly recommended" on that alone. However, while it's good, I'm not sure it's really that good. I thought the jokes were mostly funny, but they were only rarely hilarious. Likewise, while I found the drama interesting, I didn't find myself emotionally moved. I think it was mainly the clichéd premises holding this back for me, but I do want to reiterate it's possible people familiar with the prior film may have a stronger reaction. Likewise, I can't rule out the possibility that my background may be a factor: this is a film about black experiences and culture. Perhaps viewers who are part of that culture will connect with the film more effectively.

But from my admittedly limited perspective, this strikes me as a movie that's good, not great.