The Next Best Thing

(John Schlesinger, USA, 2000)


It must have looked good on paper: Madonna and Rupert Everett in a modern relationships comedy that merges Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and a television sitcom like Friends, directed by a venerable precursor of queer cinema, John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy [1969], Sunday, Bloody Sunday [1971]).

The film is a disaster from start to end, resembling a bland telemovie from the '70s. An unexpected night of passion between Abbie (Madonna) and her best, gay friend, Robert (Everett), leads to pregnancy – and the possibility of a new, radical sort of family defined by friendship rather than sex.

It all goes swimmingly until Abbie meets Ben (Benjamin Bratt), a straight guy who perfectly mirrors her vanity and vacuity.

Midway, The Next Best Thing turns from breezy romantic comedy to a social issue melodrama in the vein of Hollow Reed (1996). A custody battle provides the dreariest courtroom sequences in cinema history – alternating shots of Everett with his face turned away in anguish and Madonna's glistening, crocodile tears illuminated by glamour lighting.

Madonna is a truly appalling actor – at least when she's trying to act (Abel Ferrara had the better idea of capturing her non-acting naturalness in Dangerous Game aka Snake Eyes [1993]). She is so stricken by self-consciousness that she is unable to convincingly deliver even the simplest line – and her attempts at projecting deep emotion are laughable.

Placing her alongside such a technically skilled actor as Everett – who milks a little charm even from this abominable material – is a sheer act of cruelty on Schlesinger's part.

MORE Schlesinger: The Day of the Locust, Eye for an Eye, Pacific Heights

© Adrian Martin May 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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