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Second Best is the story of five male baby boomers all nearing 50. They graduated from college together, ready to take on the world, but only one of the group has done exceptionally well. His visit back East to hang out with the old gang triggers the most intense feelings of inadequacy and "second bestness," particularly in his oldest and closest friend. Written by
"Second Best" shows what the guys from HBO's "Entourage" may be like 40 years from now, so Mark Wahlberg might want to see it as a cautionary tale.
Like "American Splendor," it features a self-deprecating, self-proclaimed loser who turns his life into art, here as rants that he prints up himself and distributes everywhere around his suburban New Jersey home town.
But "Elliott" is not a loner or a misanthrope which is what saves him, as played by Joe Pantoliano, from being insufferable or pitiful like "Marty." He is very much a part of a network of friends, family and community, and he is even on tolerated terms with those who have moved on with their lives, including his re-married ex-wife and son (who might be the first handsome gay dental hygienist ever portrayed in film).
The actors are very comfortable at showing middle-aged, male camaraderie of long time friends, as an unusually expressive self-reflective bunch who talk about more than sports. Though their weekly dinners could put the men's movement back a bit as "Elliott" becomes increasingly lacerating in criticizing his friends' lives, that disruptive nastiness becomes an equalizing set-up when the only alpha male from their group, in a sympathetic three-dimensional performance by Boyd Gaines such that Jerry Bruckheimer should be very grateful this is his alter-ego, comes back to visit the old neighborhood with his own existential crisis.
Until writer/director Eric Weber stoops to the standard male competitive reflex of jealousy over women ending in fisticuffs, which, frankly, just doesn't make sense for these guys despite the Cyrano analogy, he does present an articulate examination (with a lot of Yiddish phrases) of coming to grips with aging, from their own health problems to the mother's nursing home (though Barbara Barrie seems much more spry than the other residents). That more depressing side of aging baby boomers was left out of "Sideways," though this film also has plenty of funny one-liners, sometimes with easy targets like Hollywood and books, to compensate.
While the women's tolerance of their men's quirks is saintly, at least they are not portrayed as total bitches, though this is a somewhat cynical reunion for Pantoliano and Jennnifer Tilly since "Bound."
While "Elliott" got laid off from his publishing job for not being in touch with the market, he is in touch with today's world enough to begin to simultaneously post his rantings as columns on a web blog, and the film's inserts of reactions he generates both in the neighborhood and online from around the country are amusing, keep the film contemporary-feeling and move along the leisurely pace.
The Bergen County, NJ locales are used very well in creating the feel of a neighborhood.
Tom O'Brien's score is lovely.
I don't know if it was the fault of the projectionist or the director that the tops of heads were cut off in so many blurry scenes.
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