Quentin: “It’s just amazing how you’ve always analyzed everybody else’s stuff, and then you don’t do the same thing for your own self.”
Writer/Director Malcolm D. Lee made quite a splash with his debut feature – the romantic ensemble drama “The Best Man” (1999). It was followed up fourteen years later with sequel “The Best Man Holiday” (2013), which was an even bigger box office success. In 2017, he directed one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while, “Girls Trip,” starring the powerhouse troupe of Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish. At the box office, the film garnered seven times its original investment. In the past couple of years, it has become my go-to movie when I need a good laugh. Lee – who is Spike Lee’s cousin – has spent 20 years earning critical and financial success with African American ensembles. I’d never seen “The Best Man” until a couple of days ago – and shame on me. It’s a heartwarming, intelligent and quite moving romantic comedy that half-way through starts to defy its classification and become something delightfully richer and unanticipated.
Harper lives in Chicago with Robin – his girlfriend of a couple of years. He has just written a novel entitled “Unfinished Business” – a fictionalized account of his group of college friends. A galley proof of the book has been read by Oprah, who selected it to be an upcoming book of the month. The following day he’s leaving to be the best man at a wedding that will include all the characters that inspired it. Robin has never met them and will join them the day of the ceremony to allow them a few days of space to themselves. But before Harper leaves, she hints at wanting a commitment because he wrote about an unconsummated love. He assures Robin that he loves her and that it was a writer’s creation. “I can’t believe you’re jealous of a character I wrote in a book,” he tells her.
He arrives in NYC where he meets his old friends. The group includes Murch – a lawyer who now works for the non-profit “Youth Urban Development”; Quentin – the livewire among them, who has been drifting career wise; Lance – the groom is a heartthrob who just signed a multi-million-dollar contract to play for the NY Giants. Sweetheart Mia is the bride who has forgotten Lance’s previous indiscretions, and Jordan – the one who is more driven than Harper – is in broadcast journalism. Through her sources, she’s gotten an advance copy of Harper’s manuscript and everyone has read it. Feathers are ruffled. The sole person who hasn’t read it is Lance, and Harper wants to make sure he doesn’t. There’s a detail in it that will rock the foundation of the group’s trust.
What is fascinating about “The Best Man” is how it starts chipping away at our expectations as well as the players on the screen. Quentin is caustic and keeps questioning the cheeriness of the reunion. Murch, who has settled in an unfulfilled relationship, begins to realize his situation. Jordan – the overachiever – begins to ponder whether Harper was the one who got away. “I feel our opportunity has presented itself again, and… I don’t want to miss out on it twice,” she confesses. Harper, the catalyst for all the upheaval, has some soul-searching of his own to do – especially since Robin will be shortly joining the festivities. The narrative exposes society’s male standards and chauvinism, but never becomes moralistic.
Like “The Big Chill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Best Man” celebrates the value of unpretentious friendship. You can believe this group of characters are the best of friends and have each other’s backs at the end of the day. Malcolm D. Lee has a wonderful ear for dialogue as well as a knack for handling a big ensemble. Every actor – including Taye Diggs, Nia Long and Morris Chestnut – among others – gets a chance to shine. This film was a breakout to so many performers including Terrence Howard as the acerbic and scene-stealing Quentin and Regina Hall in a small but unforgettable turn as “Candy” – the bachelor party stripper. Stay for the credits for there’s a nugget that’s worth savoring.
Harper: “You know what your problem is? You don’t live enough for today.”
Harper: “For once just live in the moment.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Tubi, Starz and Vudu and to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Microsoft, Redbox and DIRECTV.
Written by Malcolm D. Lee
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Starring Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun and Melissa De Sousa
Sanaa Lathan Reflects on the Making of “The Best Man”
“Basically he [Malcolm D. Lee] pitched the idea to us moment-by-moment, beat-by-beat, and by the time the pitch was over, we were like, ‘Write it! We will do it!’ And um … [Howard: didn’t hear nothing for six months] yeah, and then the script came in. It was in really good shape. I thought it was great, I was like, ‘Okay when are we doing it?’ And he said, ‘The studio actually doesn’t think it’s funny.’ That, in my mind, was kind of crazy because I thought it was funny. And so basically we all decided that we would show them if they couldn’t get it from the script. And we had a rehearsal. They laughed, they cried, they were cheering. And by the time we got to our cars in the parking lot, they were budgeting the movie.” (npr.org)
Terrence Howard on the Impact of “The Best Man”
“Malcolm D. Lee did something that very few people had really aspired towards. You know, we knew there were upscale black Americans that were living real lives, but often times that was never depicted inside of films, even on television, you know. What he created back then gave everybody an opportunity to say, ‘There is a true middle class black family. And this is their language. This is how they behave.’ So you don’t have to be, you know, a … black person pretending to be white. And you don’t have to be ghetto friendly. You can actually be, you know, extra medium [Laughter].” (npr.org)
Malcolm D. Lee on the Making of “The Best Man”
“As the producer of the film, he [Spike Lee] protected me as the filmmaker. He kept the studio at bay. The good thing about a movie like ‘The Best Man’ or anything within that budget range, is that studio has bigger fish to fry. Although there were executives on the movie that really cared about it, it was a small investment for them. I didn’t have any horror stories. There were a couple of crazy suggestions as far as casting. There were ideas like, “Can you put Magic Johnson in the movie?” “Can you put Michael Jordan in the movie?” “Can you put Babyface in the movie?” I was like,”What? What are you talking about? That’s not going to happen.” “I have to say that having come from Spike’s 40 Acres and a Mule production camp, I had a confidence about me and a vision for the movie that wouldn’t allow for something crazy to happen. The craziest compromise and it wasn’t a huge compromise was that the film was originally supposed to take place in Washington D.C. and but it was cost prohibitive so we had to shoot in New York. First they wanted Chicago, but it was then decided to shoot in New York. That was the biggest compromise that I made. I just rolled with it. Once I demonstrated that I can get a story told from the first few days of dailies, then they were like, “Ok. This guy knows what he’s doing.” That was one less thing that they had to worry about.” (blackfilm.com)
About Writer and Director Malcolm D. Lee
Malcolm D. Lee has been making films since the age of 12 in animation, video and Super 8 film formats. He has been working professionally in the industry since age 17 as a production assistant, apprentice film editor, casting associate, assistant director, and director’s assistant. After completing his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in 1992 with a BA in English and Fine Arts minor, Lee accepted a year-long fellowship in screenwriting from Walt Disney Studios. Following his early Hollywood experience he gained entry New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts, honed his craft as a director and writer, and went on to make the award-winning short film, “Morningside Prep.” With his 6th screenplay, The Best Man” Lee made his directorial debut. The Universal Pictures’ film opened to rave reviews by critics and audiences alike and scored a #1 ranking at the box office in October of 1999. Lee then directed the action comedy “Undercover Brother” with Eddie Griffin, Dave Chappelle and Neil Patrick Harris in May of 2002 to stellar reviews. His 3rd feature, “Roll Bounce” for Fox Searchlight debuted September 2005. Lee’s critically acclaimed films Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” (with Martin Lawrence) and “Soul Men” (with Samuel L. Jackson & Bernie Mac) bowed in 2008. Lee scored his biggest box-office hit with the sequel to his first film in November of 2013 (a banner year for African American films). “The Best Man Holiday” grossed 30.5 Million in its opening weekend alone pleasing audiences and shocking the industry with a game-changing debut. (abff.com) His Universal Pictures movie credits include “The Best Man;” the breakout “Girls Trip,” which grossed over $140 million worldwide; and “Night School,” which raked in over $100 million at the global box office, starred Kevin Hart and was produced by Hart and Will Packer. Lee is currently in post-production on “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” while also producing “At That Age,” a Universal Television pilot based on a script Lee co-wrote. Through his Blackmaled Productions film and TV banner, Lee has a first look deal with Universal Pictures and is developing “I Almost Forgot About You,” an adaptation of Terry McMillan’s novel with Viola Davis; “The Classic; Real Talk;” and “Rock the Bells” for Fox and “The Spoils” for Lionsgate Films. (hollywoodreporter.com)