The last 15 minutes of The Best Man Holiday deliver, without question, the craziest sequence of events I've ever seen unfold on screen … maybe ever. Out of context, we witness, in order: 1) An NFL player breaking the league’s single-season rushing record during a Christmas Day game; 2) The death and burial of a significant character; 3) A passionate hook-up at the post-funeral family gathering; 4) A pregnant character’s water breaking, leading to an awkward child birth in the back of a speeding Escalade; 5) And finally, a marriage proposal, setting up what’s sure to be the third chapter in this expanding franchise.
The unpredictability of Malcolm D. Lee’s sequel convinces me that if and when the next Best Man arrives, I’ll be there on opening day.
The strange part is that prior to the whirlwind conclusion – which rushes staple tidy conclusions to every character’s storylines – The Best Man Holiday was (and is) a realistic, honest, uncomfortable, funny, sexy and smart conversation between long-time friends reuniting after years apart for a weekend-long holiday gathering. If you first met these characters back in Lee’s crowd-pleasing 1999 comedy The Best Man and buy a ticket expecting more of the same, the movie pretty much delivers.
A well-edited montage catches us up on everyone’s progress since last we left them. Author Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) published his autobiographical novel “Unfinished Business” and rode a wave of support … but hasn’t written anything close to that book’s success, and is panicking because he and Robin (Sanaa Lathan) have their first child on the way. After getting dumped by Murch (Harold Perrineau), the sassy and outspoken Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) has established herself as a pop-culture diva on a “Real Housewives” program. Jordan (Nia Long) has climbed the ranks at MSNBC … and found herself a handsome, white boyfriend (Eddie Cibrian). As for Quentin (Terrence Howard), he’s still living the single-man’s dream, though personal changes might be on his horizon.
Large ensemble comedies usually need time to establish chemistry. The Best Man cast can (and does) hit the ground running. There’s a familiarity of friendship and camaraderie between Lee’s actors, giving solid foundation to the complicated relationship conversations, the raw sex talk, and the tender proclamations of commitment and love that bind the Best Man script. This scenario – friends reunited for a weekend getaway – too often triggers broad slapstick. Lee, as he did in the initial Best Man, trusts his gifted cast to slice to the heart of several recognizable topics with truthful, catty digs, keen observations and laugh-out-loud situational humor – mostly provided by Howard. His cell-phone bit with the beautiful Regina Hall had our preview audience howling.
Actually, that happened more than once during The Best Man Holiday. There was another sequence, a choreographed dance routine set to New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain,” where the crowd appeared to be having as much fun as the actors. Those moments are rare, and when they happen, you recognize the value of a credible connection between a movie and its viewer.
In truth, movies like Best Man Holiday are rare – insightful relationship studies populated by formidable African-American actors that doesn’t have to placate to an embarrassing “Madea” character in order to justify its production budget. Lee and his cast members will tell you that the one movie they were asked about often was the original The Best Man, as in, “When will you all get back together and make a sequel?” The movie spoke to a large audience. This sequel will too. And I hope that means we won’t have to wait nearly 15 years to see what happens next in the lives of these interesting, relatable characters. Superheroes aren’t the only ones who deserve sequels.