Holiday Viewing: The Best Man Holiday

Bust a gut laughing, or cry your guts out: You get it both ways

How do you like your Christmas movie? Raunchy comedy, or wracking-sob melodrama? With The Best Man Holiday, you don’t have to choose.

Before writer/director Malcolm D. Lee took a Girls Trip, he booked a return vacay with men (and women) behaving badly in his 2013 follow-up to 1999's The Best Man. The Best Man Holiday catches up with the first film’s group of college friends, now 15 years after graduation, as they stir up old grudges and find fresh gripes in the struggles of marriage and advancing middle age.

By any metric, they’re all wildly successful in their chosen fields. Lance (Morris Chestnut) is now an NFL superstar, poised to break a new rushing record on the eve of his retirement, to the great pride of devoted wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) and their adoring children. Jordan (Nia Long) runs a cable conglomerate. Do-gooder Julian (Harold Perrineau) founded a private school with his wife Candace (Regina Hall), a former stripper; meanwhile his insufferable ex-girlfriend Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is making reality-star bank on The Real Housewives of Westchester. And Quentin (Terrence Howard) seems to be doing just dandy, too, whatever gainful employment he enjoys leaving ample time for his recreational pursuit of weed and women.

The only one of the old gang not flourishing is Harper (Taye Diggs), the once-golden child whose roman à clef – a barely fictionalized account of his college affair with Mia, which ruptured his friendship with Lance – set off so many fireworks in the original film. A decade and a half later, Harper’s got a lot less hair, and a lot more money troubles, especially with a new baby with wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) on the way. (The bald pate – already a real nice look for Diggs – he accessorizes with a rakish newsboy cap; the rest of him he snuggles in a wintry peacoat, in what can only be counted as a Christmas gift to all of us, and God bless.)

So when Harper’s latest book gets dropped by his publisher, he’s desperate for a sure thing. And when Mia and Lance invite him and the rest of the college crew to their massive estate for a reunion weekend over Christmas, Harper thinks he’s found the answer – writing Lance’s story, with or without Lance’s blessing. Harper isn’t the only one showing up for the reunion packing a hidden agenda; let’s just say there's another “big C” elbowing Christmas for the spotlight.

A mid-film reveal, well-telegraphed, cleaves the film into a before and after. Given that second half’s emphasis on family and faith, you might armchair-quarterback the first half and question its randiness, the locker-room bantering about which of the wives is better at “rockin’ the mic” (yeahhhh, that’s a euphemism). But stripping out the ribaldry would mean erasing Howard’s role completely – blasphemy: he’s the film’s Falstaff – and besides, Lee and his stellar ensemble pull off the tonal shifts from hard-R comedy to heart-on-the-sleeve weepie and then a climactic supernova explosion of the two (backseat baby delivery!) without skipping a beat.

On the subject of that stellar ensemble cast; also: controversial opinions – if you’re looking for a supergroup Christmas movie with laughter, tears, and a throwback dance to a sweet Eighties jam, The Best Man Holiday bests the pre-fab Love Actually on every count. And on the subject of sweet Eighties jams, The Best Man Holiday advances the cause that New Edition never gets old, so let’s file that under “Christmas gift,” too.

The Best Man Holiday is currently streaming on FX Now and available to rent at video stores and the usual streaming outlets.

Throughout December, the Chronicle film team is highlighting some of our favorite seasonal film and TV offerings. Find a new recommendation every day at our Holiday Movie Advent Calendar.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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More Christmas movies
Holiday Viewing: <i>The Thin Man</i>
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