22nd December: The Best Man Holiday

Image: Universal Pictures

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy!

Year: 2013

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Writer: Malcolm D. Lee

Starring: Taye Diggs, Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Melissa De Sousa, Sanaa Lathan, Eddie Cibrian

Well, they’ve finally gone and done it. 22 days and 25 films in and I’m sat here sobbing in front of my laptop. There’s been a welling up in a couple of films, a single tear rolling down the cheek for Arthur Christmas, but nothing that’s properly hit me until now. Between the 1999 comedy drama The Best Man and this, its belated festive sequel, there’s sex, love, betrayal, fighting, illness, children, marriage, friendships lost and gained, and a whole lot of resentment. Merry bloody Christmas.

I make watching writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s The Best Man Holiday sound like a gruelling experience but in actual fact it is ostensibly, and has been marketed as, a comedy. While there are funny moments here, and certainly a whole lot of joy packed into its two hours, I think the ‘comedy’ label is very misleading. This is a big, unabashedly sentimental, heart-on-its-sleeve melodrama about the people and the feelings that bind us together. What better time to look at those things than at Christmas – the time of the year when we are forced to face our friends and family, and reckon with our past?

The Best Man Holiday is part of a rare breed: a Christmas sequel to a non-Christmas film. The first film told the story of Harper Stewart, a writer who’s first novel is based on his college days. Harper is the best man at the wedding of football star Lance Sullivan, and all their old college buddies are descending upon the wedding. Somehow, pretty much all of them have gotten hold of Harper’s book before it’s published, and they all recognise themselves in the story.

Cue the spilling of secrets, the rekindling of past loves, and various wedding-related shenanigans. It’s a good film, acting as a product of its time, but a thoughtful one, as the men of the picture discuss their varying views on sex and relationships. Some of them are straight-up sexist, some honest about their scumbaggery, others pretty nice people. Each one represents a different kind of masculinity, openly discussing their outlooks on life whilst remaining friends on a deep level. All of it is entertaining and pretty romantic come the end, if a bit dragged out.

The Best Man Holiday picks up with all the same characters 14 years later as they go to Lance’s mansion for Christmas. A lot of the characters from the first film are now married to each other, but past sparks are undoubtedly still there. More importantly, though, there is a world-weariness to everyone now. They were 20-somethings before, now they’re around 40. Money troubles, having or not having children, marrying or not marrying – these are the things that occupy our protagonists, and the film is a great watch as they negotiate them with varying levels of success.

I actually think this is a better film than the first one. That was trying to be a rom-com and also a drama about friendship at the same time, not knocking either one out the park. This film picks a side, and goes for broke on the drama. Expect tears, shouting matches and some withering put-downs from a talented cast who handle the serious and the funny with equal success. The Best Man Holiday is still a comedy in stretches, and the mix of tones is sadly a little off-balance at times, but for the most part this is melodrama through and through.

Again, it is a bit too long, but I have to admire how much Lee cares for his characters and really invests in them. One or two slip through the net, but by and large everyone has their moment in the sun, without the narrative feeling too formulaic. Despite a helpful opening montage of key moments from The Best Man, I would not recommend watching the second film without seeing its predecessor first. Its greatest appeal lies in having lived with these characters for two hours in their twenties, and now investing in all their ups and downs in middle age. However much it might make you cry.

When preparing this advent calendar project, I decided to take a little detour for today’s film. Because of The Best Man Holiday‘s intriguing status as a Christmas sequel, I was inspired to watch the similarly-placed A Bad Moms Christmas. A follow-up to the broad, sometimes infuriating and often funny comedy Bad Moms, this festive continuation of the story finds our three badly-behaving mothers – Mila Kunis (great), Kristen Bell (lovable), Kathryn Hahn (actually kind of annoying) – dealing with their own mothers as well as the kids as Christmas arrives.

Like The Best Man Holiday, A Bad Moms Christmas was a pleasant surprise in how well-suited its story was to the Christmastime setting. From the outside both films, particularly the latter, look like cynical cash-grabs, designed to draw in a bigger audience than the sequel would otherwise get by sticking some holly on the poster. In reality, both films’ focus on family and friends, and on large gatherings of people, naturally slot together with Christmas (in most years anyway). Neither Bad Moms film is as good as either Best Man film, with too few jokes landing and some shoddy storytelling, but they are still a lot of fun. So I’m glad I made the detour.

Where it Ranks

Like a lot of this list, I flopped around on The Best Man Holiday continuously as I watched. Sometimes I thought it was too long, sentimental and overindulgent; at others I just got caught up in its big-hearted embrace, laughing, cringing and crying along with the characters. It’s a bit uneven, and is far from the perfect drama, but it really brought something new to this challenge. So it makes it into the top 10.

As for A Bad Moms Christmas, all I can say is that this is a strong list. Being bottom of it isn’t all that bad.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Happiest Season
  3. Klaus
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. Black Christmas
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  7. Elf
  8. The Best Man Holiday
  9. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  11. Scrooged
  12. Love Actually
  13. Gremlins
  14. Home Alone
  15. Krampus
  16. The Christmas Chronicles
  17. Last Christmas
  18. Nativity!
  19. The Holiday
  20. Noelle
  21. The Santa Clause
  22. The Grinch
  23. The Princess Switch
  24. A Bad Moms Christmas

Andrew Young

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