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New Best Friend

Wither Dominique Swain? After making a stunning debut in Adrian Lyne's 1997 version of Lolita (where she was singled out for praise in nearly every review), and appearing in the same year's Face/Off, Swain belly-flopped into the straight-to-video dimension with such efforts as The Smokers, Happy Campers, and Girl. Which is all the more shocking considering all the retro-minded teensploitation films of late. Surely she's no worse an actress than Kirsten Dunst or Natalie Portman, but perhaps Swain's thunder was stolen by Scarlet Johansson (Ghost World). Whatever the case, there seems to be no reason Swain should be doing nude scenes this early in her career. Yet in 2002's New Best Friend, Swain has a sapphic encounter with Mia Kirshner (who keeps her top on, and yet is even less famous) roughly halfway through the movie, with this scene the major basis for her character's existence. In fact, the whole movie is as pointless (but perhaps not as entertaining) as this one event. Kirshner stars as college student Alicia, who begins the film comatose as the local sheriff Artie Bonner (Taye Diggs, wearing khakis and a badge) is asked by her dean to investigate the overdose — but quietly, as their town is sustained by the rich kids who attend school. It turns out that the downtrodden Alicia had recently made friends with the campus's most bourgeois popular girls — Hadley (Meredith Monroe), Sydney (Swain), and Julianne (Rachel True) — because of a project she had to do with Hadley. But Alicia quickly picks up their worst habits and stirs up jealousy by keeping her eye on both Hadley's boyfriend and father. Equal parts All About Eve and Heathers, New Best Friend futzes up all of its interesting elements. By placing the sympathetic Alicia in a coma from the start, it's hard to invest completely in her transformation into a popular girl; the social politics of the girls seems more appropriate for high school than college; and all the interesting things (drug use, sex lives, the girls' infighting) takes a back seat to the "mystery" that could have been solved from the outset if someone checked the phone records against the three girls' stories. Also, because New Best Friend was directed by a woman (Zoe Clarke-Williams), one wishes that it would have a more original take on the subject matter than the direct-to-video plotting it contains; those who hold a fondness for Swain may wish to see the film solely for her, but it's a hard lot just the same. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents the film in both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame (1.33:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include an audio commentary by director Clarke-Williams, trailers for this and other films, and cast/crew bios. Keep-case.
—DSH



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