13 July 2000 | Buddy-51
flawed but rewarding film
`The Best Man' is a flawed but generally rewarding romantic drama, featuring a first-rate cast of likeable, talented actors. The film tells the tale of a handsome up-and-coming writer whose first novel has just been published on the eve of his best friend's wedding. The problem is that much of the material in the book has been drawn from autobiographical sources and now, as old friends gather for the ceremony, the author and best man, Harper Stewart, has to face the fallout from some of the less than flattering portrayals contained therein. In addition, the novel contains the revelations of a few hitherto well-guarded secrets, some of which bear directly on the principals involved in the wedding itself.
Ironically, the primary strength of the film also emerges as its overarching weakness. The movie provides so richly textured a depiction of the interrelationships between and among the wide assortment of characters that it alternately straddles the line between fascination and tedium. On the positive side, writer/director Malcolm D. Lee is not afraid to give the characters their due, to allow them to reveal their many-layered personalities in scenes that play out in real-time tempo and rhythm. One appreciates the fact that we are not being rushed along from one highly dramatic moment to another without time to really get to know the characters as people. The counter effect of this, however, is that the film often seems too talky, self-indulgent and dramatically flat, a fact not helped by the excessive 122-minute running time. In addition, the whole novel-publishing aspect of the story seems both unnecessary and contrived, not to mention lacking in credibility since it becomes a bit difficult to believe that, if he were so terrified about his friends discovering his true perceptions of them, Harper would have written the novel in the first place. Moreover, when we hear voice-over recitations of a few sections of the novel itself, we are struck dumb that so badly written and trite a work could be so critically lauded and commercially successful.
However, the film's virtues do, ultimately, outweigh its imperfections. The actors and actresses turn in uniformly fine performances and the film deals intelligently and sensitively with the age-old issues of the fear of commitment and the two-faced attitude many men have when it comes to female infidelity. Lee, within the context of his characters, confronts these issues with subtlety rather than heavyhandedness and the last half hour or so of the film turns into a very moving celebration of the qualities of acceptance, commitment and sacrifice necessary to make a relationship truly work. `The Best Man' may require a little patience at times to get through, but the reward for those willing to give it a try makes it worth the effort.