Lazily directed by Oscar-winner John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) with an eye towards his actors' muscle tone rather than characterisations (even the kid does yoga), the faults in The Next Best Thing aren't solely on the shoulders of its miscast stars, but rather the painfully inept screenplay by Tom Ropelewski (Look Who's Talking Now). With cardboard dialogue that sounds like bad first-draft material--including wailing by Madonna about how she can't find a man (ha!) and a gym-buffed Everett complaining about gay male body image (double ha!)--the movie stumbles from domestic comedy to custody-suit tragedy when it takes a bizarre left turn in the third act. Any statements about new definitions of family are buried underneath these dubious events, which (of course) provide teary courtroom outbursts for both leads. Everett has a quick way with a one-liner, and Madonna is more relaxed than she's ever been in a film, but Schlesinger just tosses them in front of the camera with no help whatsoever; the supporting cast, including Lynn Redgrave, Neil Patrick Harris, and Illeana Douglas, is also left to flounder inexplicably. There's a thoughtful and provocative movie to be made about gay parents, but The Next Best Thing certainly isn't it. --Mark Englehart, Amazon.com
Let me start by saying that I think it's unfair of anyone to say that Madonna cannot act. We've all seen Evita, and as much as it was a dangerous gamble re-creating a musical on screen, Madonna shone in that - and has the Golden Globe to prove it. Yet we still go on about how terrible an actress she is. The trouble with someone as successful as Madonna, and as creative and fortunate as Madonna, is that when she does something that doesn't quite match the standard to which we expect it is BIG news! Finally, she's not as good as everyone is saying. She isn't the Genius everyone says she is. Having this ammunition is great for detractors and people who don't really like Madonna. It always gets raked up.
However, Madonna doesn't shine so much in this film. What is apparent from time to time in this film is her comic timing (something which I think was visibly impressive, yet totally inappropriate in Swept Away) which is actually quite good. Personally I'd like to see Madonna in a proper good rom-com - something like My Best Friends Wedding could be perfect for her to turn her hand to - let's not forget that even an Oscar-winning actress like Julia Roberts has played her fair share of non-credible yet totally fabulous roles. Madonna, like with her music, wants to be the best. She wants adoration, recognition, appreciation (the Kabbalah seriously hasn't affected her appetite and ambition in that sense) and perhaps she won't actually find it in acting.
With this in mind, she could still be a good actress, starring in fun, up-beat films that people like. Evita was a bolt of lightening, and we all know it never strikes twice. As much as I love seeing what Madonna does on screen, I would have preferred Evita to either come in 10 years time, or have been her swansong of the Movie World.
This is simply a bad script. It could stand to be properly re-written, enhanced, given serious budget, production and been a longer, more in-depth film. We barely touch on some of the emotional content available, let alone the hideously rushed story. The film's first half is an extravagant, exciting and funny look at a relationship that is all to often overlooked - the gay man and his straight, female best friend - a movie version of Will & Grace, which I think EVERYONE loves! But it all too quickly descends into drama and pain, and never really comes back from that, although the ending shows that things may get better, even though no one really wins. How did it all get so bad? So bitchy? So QUICKLY!!! I could stand to watch more of these characters (Lynn Redgrave is fabulous as Everett's Landscaper's mother, and his son, Sam, played by Malcolm Stumpf is a dream) if we were able to just invest a bit more in them. The acting was okay from the two leads, and I have to say that I only really cringed once, and that was at Everett, who in an emotional scene after a funeral displays some of the worst acting I have EVER seen. Madonna, when not much is expected from her, is quite good.
I agree that this film could have been lots better, and with this in mind, so could most of Madonna's movie ventures. She has a real talent in the movie world. The talent being to pick the wrong movies to act in!!! Both of the leads should stick to comedy, romance and music as their movie genres, and leave the serious stuff to those who know what to do with it.
After all, Emma Bunton will never be Madonna, so how can Madonna expect to be Meryl Streep?
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