“The Best Man Holiday” opened last week to over $30 million in box office, almost taking the top spot from the latest Marvel Comic/Disney super wonderflick installment of the “Thor” franchise. That surprised many in the media, but not those who keep an ear attuned to the word on Martin Luther King Blvd’s across the country. There was also some upheaval over some light shade USA Today threw the pictures way, calling it “race themed.” The film, like it’s predecessor, is based on the lives of good looking, well educated black people, but it’s by no means a film that deals with racial themes, but we already knew that.
The original film was both a pleasure and an inspiration to me back in ’99 when it appeared, and it’s become a perennial classic since then. The 1990s were full of very serious depictions of black pathologies and ghettocentric problems. This was aided by the rise to commercial relevance of hip hop music. There was considerably less room in popular culture for the positive black family ethic displayed by “The Cosby Show” just a decade earlier, and even Spike Lee’s black issue centered, but highly articulate films began to lose “street cred.” “The Best Man”, directed by Lee’s cousin, Malcom D Lee, was one in a wave of several comedies set in environements that were black, affluent, but also, recognizable. The characters for the most part didn’t have the nose in the air affluence of Uncle Phil on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Nor were they super ghetto. However, there were individuals who tilted slightly towards ‘saddity’ personality traits, and those who leaned towards down home earthiness. This made the individuals inch ever so closer to being fully fleshed individuals that any black person or person who has been around real black people would recognize, a mix of human personality traits instead of cartoon reflections of viewers preconcieved notions.
“The Best Man Holiday” picks up where the first film left off, fast forwarding (or “searching”?) 15 years ahead. Lance is a successful football player for the New York Giants still, reaching the twilight of a hall of fame caliber career, and still married to Mia with a family of four beautiful children. Jordan is an Oprah style media mogul running her own television station. Murch and Candice are running their own charter/private school, and Quentin, aside from still being a P-I-M-P, is running his own P.R firm. Harper Stewart is married to Robin, who is pregnant, and struggling through a low point in his career as a writer.
Harper Stewart, potrayed by Taye Diggs, is a character who fascinated me in the first film and continues to do so even more in this sequel. One of my best friends once assigned me the position of Harper and himself the position of Lance when the first flick came out, which is a notion I rejected then but accept now. Harper wrote a book in the first film that aired the dirty laundry of his whole circle in a fictionalized form, including a revelation about his friends Lance and Mia. Harper’s character is an interesting stand in for writers, creative people, and powerful personalities. He is a religous skeptic, contrasted by his football playing buddy Lance, who is a true believer. As a writer of fiction, you control outcomes and fates and create characters, in short, play God. Harper leads a tightly controlled life full of secrets, power moves and scenarios conntrolled by himself. He’s not a “bad guy” by any means, handsome and charming, but his own friends who are closest to him still feel distantanced by his tight sense of control, even as they laugh over it because its such a familiar character trait. The Harper of this film , is much humbler, and carrying out his manipulations for the best of causes, but he can’t help but come across in that same old uptight way at times.
We find our characters all “doing them.” Robin and Harper are now married, and expecting a child, a breech baby after a string of lost pregnancies. Harper’s book is rejected by his publisher, and his publisher suggests the only way to get a fat advance is to secure the memoirs of his estranged friend, Lance (Morris Chestnut). Which moves him to accept a very heartfelt personalized invitation Lance’s sweet wife, Mia, reprised with heartfelt grace by Monica Calhoun.
Terrance Howard’s Quentin is still the live wire of the group, quick with a quip, un politically correct, a free spirit and ladies man, the type of dude who cares about people deeply but also shoots the arrow of satire to keep things from getting too mushy, which is needed in this one, because it’s a tear jerker. Harold Perrinau’s Julian Murch character is expanded on from the first film, still a smart, somewhat uptight dude, but also much more in control of thigns than before, that is at least, until his wife Candice (Regina Hall) is discorered doing the do in her stripper days on YouTube, and his ex girlfriend Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) shows up and still has a thing for him.
Shelby is doing exactly what a woman of her narcissism, beauty, and position should be doing in 2013 : starring on reality television! She also riles up some of the trouble in the flick, taking advantage of the communication gap between Murch and Candy.
The film features the expected “we got the band back together again” scenes of old friends who truly know each other falling right back where they left off after many years. The conversation is raucous and definitely ventures into grown folks business many times. Morris Chestnut does a good job in potraying his characters estrangement from Harper, and it’s a pleasure to see these two old friends gradually thaw out and become close again due to the serious events of the plot. Robin and Jordan have a certain animosity between them as well, as Harper’s wife and Harper’s “one that got away.” As any circle of friends there are tensions all around between different characters, as befitting long time associates.
Mia however is the heart of the film. Her character brings everybody together for a very important reason that should make the tensions in the group seem trivial by comparison. “The Best Man Holiday” succeeds because it’s characters are very likeable and recognizable, and the crew exhibits such a believable group dynamic. Not only does it exemplify the phrase “black don’t crack”, it also does not shy away from a holiday message of love and brotherhood/sisterhood. It will fulfill and exceed all your expectations of seeing these old friends one more time!