For the first hour, The Best Man Holiday plays out like a fun, long-anticipated reunion with some old friends. Some are a little older, married with children and deep into their careers, but after a few moments, it feels like nothing has changed.
With one of the more likable romantic comedy ensembles in the last 20 years, it doesn’t take long to rekindle the spark and for the cast to have you tearing up from laughing so hard.
Then in its second half, Director/Writer Malcolm D. Lee makes a risky choice of having his simple romantic comedy grow up. He puts his characters through scenarios that will elicit tears not from the jokes, but the weighty subject matters.
I’m not entirely convinced the more melodramatic turn was necessary. Fans of the 1999 original are likely expecting exactly what Lee delivers early on. For them, the shift in tone to a tissue-box emptier tear-jerker may be jarring especially if they’re looking for an entertaining distraction from the hardships of their own lives.
Ultimately, Lee’s gambit works in part because of the attachment we have to the characters and also the fantastic performances by the cast who are so comfortable with each other it’s easy to forget they’re acting.
It’s 15 years later, but Lance (Morris Chestnut, Kick-Ass 2) and Mia (Monica Calhoun), are still deeply in love and parents to four wonderful children. Lance is winding down a stellar professional football career and is within striking distance of the all-time rushing record while Mia simply wants to reunite their college gang for Christmas.
Harper’s (Taye Diggs, Baggage Claim) relationship with Lance is still on life-support all these years later stemming from Harper and Mia’s college hookup, but Harp has made peace with the fact that he and Lance will never be as close again.
Besides, he and his wife, Robyn, (Sanaa Lathan) are expecting their first child. His old flame, Jordan (Nia Long) remains a go-getter racking up professional awards and enjoying her relationship with a great guy. Brian (Eddie Cibrian).
Julian (Harold Perrineau, Zero Dark Thirty) and his wife, Candace (Regina Hall, Think Like a Man) are raising funds for their education center while his ex-girlfriend, Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) has become a mini-celebrity as a Real Housewife reality TV star. Smooth-talking Quentin (Prisoners’ Terrence Howard more dynamic than he’s been in a decade) is just as suave and quick-witted as always.
Once reunited, the gang realizes that some old wounds still haven’t healed and the lingering tensions threaten to ruin Mia’s perfect holiday. Lee manufactures a few issues just to create some conflicts mainly to give each couple their own subplot, but he resists the urge to go too over the top with them where it feels manipulative.
Lee doesn’t go for the cheap jokes of making the children rambunctious hellions or overly sarcastic little know-it-alls. Instead, he refreshingly provides a side to them we don’t see enough these days.
Howard was the breakout star of the original and he easily steals the show again with every well-placed joke or winking remark. For the first time in a long time, he appears to be enjoying himself onscreen and it’s instantly apparent. Cibrian easily fit in and it was a bit disappointing he has what just amounts to a cameo.
When the tone shifts, each of the couples have at least one moment guaranteed to choke you up or straight up reach for the tissues with Chestnut/Calhoun and Diggs/Lathan specifically standing out. The cast is a blast to watch having fun, but they earn their paychecks during these dramatic scenes.
Reunited and it feels so good through the laughs and the cheers, The Best Man Holiday is one of the most charming comedy/dramas in years.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Universal Studios
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