Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Best Man

By Marc Savlov

NOVEMBER 1, 1999: 

D: Malcolm D. Lee; with Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau Jr., Terrence Dashon Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun, Melissa DeSousa. (R, 120 min.)

Malcolm D. Lee, cousin of Spike, hits emotional pay dirt in this men's-eye-view of marriage, fidelity, and love. It's far less abrasive and casually caddish than the few other films of this stripe, and Lee's script is full of knowing masculine asides that too often get glossed over in other films that center on the emotional maelstrom that precipitates almost every wedding. Diggs plays Harper, a budding novelist whose first, and as yet unpublished, book has just been picked by Oprah herself as a future selection in her bestseller-creating book club. On top of that, he's in love with his gorgeous, forthright girlfriend, Robin (Lathan), and during the coming weekend he will act as best man at the nuptials of his old college chum Lance (Chestnut). Life, you would think, is sweet for young Harper, but Lee paints storm clouds on the horizon. For one thing, Robin's making noises that begin with the letter "m," and the entire wedding party has managed to procure advance copies of Harper's book, a thinly veiled account of the group's collegiate hi-jinks, including his own one-night dalliance with the bride. While flying to New York for the wedding, he also threatens to rekindle a long-dormant romance with the one who got away, Jordan (Long), now an associate producer at BET. Complications arise, of course, as Harper tries to juggle Jordan and the soon-to-arrive Robin, while simultaneously working to keep Lance from discovering the school-daze tryst. Ain't love grand? The Best Man is a pleasant, ingratiating surprise in the young-buppies-in-love genre, if that's what this actually is. Although the cast is uniformly African-American (and it should be noted, uniformly excellent), Lee's writing could just as easily apply to any social or racial group; there are few, if any real boundaries limiting either the characters' motivations or their emotions or that position them within definitive black boundaries. This seems to run counter to cousin Spike's too-often dogmatic and occasionally histrionic racial statements. That serves Spike Lee well, and often it's integral to his work and vision, but Malcom D. Lee is dealing with emotional time bombs not strictly bound by issues of class and race; he's an equal-opportunity pundit, and that serves The Best Man very well indeed. At once hopelessly romantic (the ending elicited more than a few sniffles) and deeply moral, thoughtful, and amiably humorous. All that, and a guy's point of view as well (not to mention Stanley Clarke's wicked-sweet scoring) ­ Malcolm D. Lee is clearly a director to watch.

3.5 Stars


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