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The Next Best Thing

With The Next Best Thing we finally have a movie that could very easily have been nothing but montage sequences. There is a story of sorts, but the narrative contains no elements that you haven't seen before, and none of the dialogue is essential to an understanding of what's going on. Done via wordless montage, with a Madonna song in the background, the film would have been over in about 12 minutes and we all could have gone home early. But as it happens, former-prestige-British-director-turned-Joel-Schumacher-level-hack John Schlesinger felt compelled to actually film the entire screenplay by Thomas Ropelewski (Look Who's Talking Now) in all of its excruciating completeness — thus, we are presented with endless scenes of Madonna looking lovingly (or looking jealous, or just simply looking) at the action around her with its stretches of banal and irrelevant dialogue. The story concerns two best friends: Abbie Reynolds (Madonna), a straight woman who teaches the exquisitely hip art of Ashtanga yoga, and Robert Whitlock (Rupert Everett), a gay landscaper whose boyfriend has died of AIDS. After a night of drunken debauchery, they sleep together, and when Abbie proves to be pregnant they decide to live together and raise the child as an ordinary mother and father. As it happens, Robert proves to be a dedicated dad whose private life suffers from his commitment to young Sam, but Abbie finds herself jealous of Robert's occasional affairs with handsome doctors. Eventually, Abbie herself falls in love with an investment banker (Benjamin Bratt) and wants to move with the guy to New York, creating a nasty custody battle with everyone weeping profusely but no one sitting down to talk out the problem. It's when the trial part of The Next Best Thing gets underway that the viewer realizes that the film is the gay equivalent of an old female weepie, with Everett in the Joan Crawford role. Everett does as well with this material as he can (and he is one of the screen's best actors right now) but in its way The Next Best Thing is gay soft-core porn (very soft). Paramount's DVD edition, while featuring a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 audio, comes with a small palm-full of extras, including a cloying cast-and-crew interview, the trailer, and the Madonna music video of "American Pie," which figures in the film for some reason (and visually is a not bad video, with striking images of a variety of American faces). Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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