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2007 | 2000

1 item from 2000

Film review: 'The Next Best Thing'

3 March 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Madonna and Rupert Everett are a complete mismatch in "The Next Best Thing". But then, they are only one among many in a film that looks like it was put together by several political action committees with a concern more for engineering audience reaction rather than telling a vivid story. The result is a movie that starts out as a lightweight comedy but devolves into an unlikely and thoroughly unconvincing courtroom melodrama.

Mostly, though, the film wants to deliver messages. But at times it does so like an absent-minded professor who, mixing up his lecture notes, continually shifts topics from unconventional families and the need for tolerance to parental rights, the meaning of fatherhood and the benefits of yoga. Pitched by Paramount as an offbeat comedy, the film will surely disappoint all but the most die-hard Madonna fans. Theatrical prospects look poor despite a snappy soundtrack and production sheen.

Director John Schlesinger and his DP, Elliot Davis, start the film off as though it were an update on Noel Coward, a sort of "Design for Living 2000". Madonna plays a Los Angeles yoga instructor, luckless in love and yearning to settle down with that special guy. Everett is her best buddy, a terribly witty and often quite caustic landscape architect, luckless in love and yearning to settle down with that special guy.

When Madonna suffers her latest breakup with a callous lover (Michael Vartan), Everett manages to put a comic spin on her heartbreak. This causes her to laugh again, and they settle back into their best-buddies mode, singing "American Pie" at a funeral and cocooning with a cozy evening of cocktails and 1930s show tunes.

That particular evening, however, leads to a startling event. They wake up in each other's arms, which leads a few weeks later to an even more startling development -- they are about to become parents. Determined to do the right thing, they move in together, not as lovers but certainly as parents.

Cut to six years later -- with not even a hint of aging for either star -- and everything is running smoothly in this unconventional household. Their son (a lively Malcolm Stumpf) and his playmates occasionally ask embarrassing questions, such as why doesn't Mommy sleep with Daddy. But the couple cheerfully shrug off these queries, saying they'll explains things at a later date, presumably before he graduates from college.

Then an investment-banker stud (Benjamin Bratt) enters their lives. Madonna falls in love with him, causing the expected pouting on Everett's part. But when marriage and the prospect of separation from his son loom -- Bratt lives in New York -- Everett goes berserk and files a custody suit, which lets lawyers, witnesses and a judge swamp the movie's concluding act.

For this jerry-built plot to work at all, an audience must be convinced of the emotional connection between the two soul mates. But Madonna and Everett operate as though they were in different movies.

Everett's smug British flippancy works well in a supporting role such as Julia Roberts' buddy in "My Best Friend's Wedding", where he can act as Greek chorus and foil to the heroine's romantic misfortunes. But in a movie in which he is in nearly every scene, his arch mannerisms prove a drawback to real character development.

Madonna, however, gives the warmest performance of her film career, displaying an emotional vulnerability as well as maternal instincts in her scenes with young Stumpf. Unlike anyone else in the movie, hers is a full-blooded, well-rounded character, a caring, loving, tough yet sometimes insecure woman who continues to maintain high expectations of life despite all evidence to the contrary.

Alas, all other roles are mere caricatures -- disapproving parent, catty friends, sympathetic lawyer and sensitive boyfriend. Indeed when Bratt first appears on screen, he all but has "Madonna Love Interest" stamped on his forehead.

Throughout, Thomas Ropelewski's screenplay suffers from artificiality. Its contrived plot twists and character behavior seem dictated by the need to plant insights and drive home thematic points. Technical credits reflect this determination with a spit-and-polish surface in terms of design, costumes and cinematography, but one that is ultimately little more than a soulless studio glaze.


Paramount Pictures

Lakeshore Entertainment

Producers:Tom Rosenberg, Leslie Dixon, Linne Radmin

Director:John Schlesinger

Writer:Thomas Ropelewski

Executive producers:Gary Lucchesi, Ted Tannebaum, Lewis Manilow

Director of photography:Elliot Davis

Production designer:Howard Cummings

Music:Gabriel Yared

Costume designer:Ruth Myers

Editor:Peter Honess




Robert:Rupert Everett

Ben:Benjamin Bratt

Elizabeth Ryder:Illeana Douglas

Kevin:Michael Vartan

Richard Whittaker:Josef Sommer

Sam:Malcolm Stumpf

Helen Whittaker:Lynn Redgrave

Running time -- 107 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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2007 | 2000

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