A lot has changed in the near 15 years since audiences were first introduced to the romantic travails of wannabe writer Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) and his college boys Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut), Julian Murch (Harold Perrineau), and Quentin Spivey (Terrence Howard), and not all of it has happened within Malcolm D. Lee’s cinematic universe. In fact, the biggest difference now is that, a decade and a half ago, Tyler Perry was still playing the Bible Belt with his inspiration theatrical melodramas. It would be another six years before the African American phenom would tap into the underserved audience that The Best Man was hoping to hit with Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Now, Mr. Madea is the reigning ruler of urban entertainment and Lee is looking to play catch up. The Best Man Holiday probably won’t unseat Perry as the drag Prince of faith-based comic potboilers (nor is it very correct grammatically), but it’s not a bad night out at the movies, either.
With all the time that’s past, very little has really changed. Harper is still married to Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) and they are expecting their first child. He has yet to follow-up his successful first book and he is struggling financially. Lance, on the other hand, has seen a solid NFL career and is thinking of retiring to spend more time with his family, including spouse Mia (Monica Calhoun). Julian is trying to cope with having an ex-stripper (Regina Hall) for a wife, and things only get more complicated when an old video of her “performing” goes viral on the Internet. Add in lax ladies man Quentin (Howard), Julian’s ex Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) who is now on a Bravo-like Housewives TV show and Harper’s former love interest Jordan (Nia Long), and you have a holiday reunion where the sparks are guaranteed to fly.
Suffering from too many plot threads and too few laugh-out-loud jokes, The Best Man Holiday is still an oddly affecting film. If you’re familiar with the original, you’ll enjoy seeing these familiar faces once again, dealing with problems both realistic (financial) and ridiculous (that aforementioned video). If you don’t remember the first film or simply have forgotten what The Best Man was all about, no need to worry. Writer/director Lee spends a good chunk of the credits reminding us of what transpired between the characters so many years before and then tosses us directly into a Christmas weekend bash where every conversation ends up in either tears, jeers, screams, or snickers. No one here talks like normal human beings. Instead, it’s all screenplay personality dynamics and preparations for payoffs later. Sure, most of it works, but there’s also a cold, calculated feel to the hidden message manipulation of almost everything that happens.
Nothing here occurs without subtext or a shot at overt sentimentality. Yes, someone has a secret and may not make it to the final credits, and we’ve got a baby to be delivered, but that’s the least of The Best Man Holiday‘s contrivances. Everyone here is interconnected in some way, from their already presented past to newfound information suddenly tossed into the mix, and, of course, when emergencies arrive, old grudges and belabored vendettas are whisked away on plentiful “Go with God” platitudes. For someone like Perry, the Christian angle is always front and center. Here, Lee seems sheepish about including it. It’s as if he recognizes the need to include religion, but can’t find a smooth transition into it. With Perry, it’s part of the overall scheme. In The Best Man Holiday, it’s haphazard.
And yet somehow, after settling in with this overlong title (122 minutes is at least 20 too long) and experiencing everything — the good, the bad, and the baffling — that these mostly decent people go through, you can’t help but feel the need to bust out a hanky or two. Maybe it’s the yuletide spirit or the memories of Noels gone by, but The Best Man Holiday makes up for its misgivings most of the time.