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NEXT BEST THING, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Abbie (Madonna), a new-age yoga instructor and her gay best friend, Robert (Rupert Everett), live life to the full in that eccentric L.A. way. Robert plays confidant to Abbie’s love life, comforting her after she breaks up with long time boyfriend Kevin (Michael Vartan). Robert has woes of his own, having just lost a friend to AIDS. A night drowning their sorrows with cocktails and dress-ups leads to unplanned and uncharacteristic sex. When Abbie discovers she’s pregnant, Robert is a proud daddy to Sam (Malcolm Stumph) for six years, until Ben (Benjamin Bratt), the new man in Abbie's life, moves in. Robert despises the new arrangements. His rantings force Abbie to move on, taking her son with her, and it leads to a bitter custody battle that unearths a few revelatory twists.

"Everyone has lapses of judgement, even talented people. The Next Best Thing suffers from this on a large scale and watching it is a little like watching a teetering man on the edge of cliff as he totters inexorably toward the abyss - but you're unable to do anything to help, not even scream. The combination of a problematic story structure, coupled with corny lines and a predictability that grows with every reel weighs heavily against veteran Schlesinger's disappointing effort. (This is the director of Midnight Cowboy, Sunday Bloody Sunday and many more…) Not only does he miscalculate with the tone (several tones) of the film, as it bounces from wacky, hip comedy to troubled relationship drama (with courtroom drama add-ons), he also miscalculates with the story's emotional arc, which zigzags around several implausible character points. Madonna and Everett, both considerable talents, are not up to their peak here, yet their star power is the only thing that keeps the audience from walking out. Lumpy and laboured, Next Best Thing invites a cynical or sarcastic response - a temptation avoided here in deference to the good intentions of the film; it's a lost opportunity to grapple with some hefty issues in a meaningful way."
Andrew L. Urban

"As I walked out of the screening, a microphone was thrust into my mouth, and someone asked me what I thought of the film. Before I had time to even think, I heard my own voice say (in automatic response mode): 'It's a lot of fun.' And a lot of fun it is. Essentially there are two good reasons to see The Next Best Thing: they are Rupert Everett and Madonna. While everything Andrew says (above) is true, there are films that are more enjoyable if you DON'T analyse them too much. Certainly it is not the film it could have been, and Oscar-nominated director John Schlesinger has muddled up the end result. One film cannot successfully be a flippant cross-dressing comedy, a buddy movie, a romance, a gay love triangle, a courtroom drama as well as a custody battleground for a gay parent. Had Schlesinger chosen to make a moving, poignant drama with comedic touches (along the lines of The Object of My Affection), it may have worked better. Alternatively, as a light-hearted comedy (many of the film's best moments are the frivolous, comedic ones), we could have let Everett charm us silly as he delivers irresistible lines like 'If I were you – and I practically am', and allow Madonna opportunities to be extroverted instead of terminally weepy. But, back to the two good reasons. Everett and Madonna are such charismatic performers, that even though our ears tell us that the structure is flawed, the script is unbelievable, and in parts rather stupid, we are fascinated. Everett is so darn likeable that whether he's making us laugh or cry, he simply oozes appeal. Everett and Madonna are wonderful together, playing off each other beautifully. If you want to chill out, have a few laughs and succumb to the allure of its star power, this might well be The Next Best Thing."
Louise Keller

"If there’s a point to this laborious, mind-numbing mish-mash, I missed it. If I weren’t there to review it I would have walked out after the first 15 minutes. Judging by the comments around me, I wouldn’t have been the only one. So there I was, lost in the abyss, craving the end, my only amusement monitoring just how low it could go. It’s as if someone (screenwriter Tom Ropelewski?) read the tabloids and thought it would make a good movie. Is Madonna not friends with Rupert Everett in real life? Does he not serve as her gay confidant? Is Mads not a yoga fanatic? Was she not impregnated by a kind of donor sperm? This movie is so self-referential it’s more than indulgent – it’s egomaniacal. It’s the finest example of art imitating life when it should never have. And is anyone really so interested in Madonna anymore anyway? Maybe she should change her name to a symbol? The Next Best Thing (surely an ironic title) is crudely similar to My Best Friend’s Wedding, where Rupert Everett likewise served as gay confidant to a WASPish head case (played in that film with upbeat vivacity by Julia Roberts). It also had Cameron Diaz in her best role, and always put light on matters of the heart. By contrast, The Next Best Thing is resolute in dumping a deluge of dreary heartache. One can only posit how it came to a climactic courtroom battle - perhaps a studio directive, hoping to up the melodrama. Madonna, tragically wooden here, gives the worst performance I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. Rupert, bless him, makes the best of a bad situation and plays the camp gay card with gusto. He and supporting actors Illeana Douglas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Lynn Redgrave deserve better vehicles. Before I waste more time, know only Joan of Arc could rival The Next Best Thing for worst movie of the year. At least Joan had cool battle scenes and John Malkovich hamming it up. Congratulations, not only is The Next Best Thing The Worst This Year, it also hits high on The Worst of All Time."
Shannon J Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 1

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NEXT BEST THING (M)
(US)

CAST: Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Vartan, Josef Sommer, Lynn Redgrave, Malcolm Stumph, Neil Patrick Harris

DIRECTOR: John Schlesinger

PRODUCER: Tom Rosenberg, Leslie Dixon, Linne Radmin

SCRIPT: Thomas Ropelewski

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Elliot Davis

EDITOR: Peter Honess

MUSIC: Gabriel Yared

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Howard Cummings

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: May 11, 2000







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