Film review: The Best Man Holiday is a smart, funny seasonal comedy

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Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, and Nia Long reunite in the festive relationship comedy, The Best Man Holiday. Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, and Nia Long reunite in the festive relationship comedy, The Best Man Holiday.

Fourteen years is a long time between chapters in a movie. Think about all the sequels, prequels, and bologna that take their time getting to the big screen, and you’ll find beaucoup bad movies: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; and 2010, for all its charms, doesn’t seem like it was made in the same mold as its predecessor, 2001.

The Best Man Holiday doesn’t have that problem. Maybe that’s because its lead characters are real-ish people living real-ish lives (author; chef; educator; news executive; football player; reality TV star; hotel fortune heir). They’re worried about their families, friends, and finances. They’re not saving the world at large, but living within the confines of their existences and navigating the traps we all face as we delve farther into adulthood. It also helps that the opening credits sequence neatly recaps the major plot points of The Best Man, writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 original.

What The Best Man Holiday does have is lots of comedy, drama, and melodrama. There’s enough plot here to fill two movies, which explains the bloated 122-minute running time. Harper (Taye Diggs) is still the star, and the novel he was on the verge of publishing in The Best Man was a huge bestseller. It landed him more book deals and a teaching gig at New York University.

Unfortunately, NYU has fired him because of budget cuts, and his agent tells him his latest book doesn’t have takers. Fortunately—and because this is the movies—Lance (Morris Chestnut), the football star, and his wife, Mia (Monica Calhoun), are throwing a big weekend holiday party. All the old friends are invited. Harper’s agent suggests Harper propose to Lance a ghost-written biography, which is all but guaranteed to be a bestseller. Harper isn’t hot on the idea, and neither is his wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lathan).

But Harper and Robyn attend the fiesta, even though Lance is still angry with Harper for sleeping with Mia all those years ago. There isn’t much time—at first—to dwell on old wounds. They’re soon joined by Julian (Harold Perrineau) and Candace (Regina Hall), as well as Quentin (Terrence Howard), Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) and Harper’s almost-old flame Jordan (Nia Long).

That’s a lot of characters, and Lee does well parceling out the laughs and serious moments. If you’ve seen big, ensemble pieces like this (The Big Chill, Peter’s Friends, The Family Stone), you know what’s coming: Reminiscing, altercations (including a serious knock-down-drag-out fight between Candace and Shelby), and health problems.

There are no surprises, and plot threads are dropped as often as they’re brought up. But the cast makes it work. Diggs, the audience surrogate, navigates a million plot twists; Chestnut roots Lance’s steely persona in the great human trait of denial; and Howard shines, supplying comic relief one moment and tender understanding the next. The last third of the movie drags, and the women aren’t as well drawn as the men, but as holiday entertainment for everyone, it’s smart, funny, and the emotions feel real.

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