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The Next Best Thing

Rated [PG-13]
Starring Madonna, Rupert Everett, and Benjamin Bratt
Screenplay by Tom Ropelewski
Directed by John Schlesinger

The view from the West Coast, by Paul Fischer

Abbie (Madonna) opens the film as she is being dumped by her boyfriend, Kevin (Michael Vartan. Luckily for Abbey she has an understanding gay friend, Robert (Rupert Everett), a terrific shoulder to lean on. When Robert-who is house-sitting for a rich, aging gay couple-enjoys some drinks with Abbie and they go into a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers act in the spacious living room of the house, they somehow end up together in bed. Nine months following, a baby arrives.

The unconventional couple live together for five years, with Robert's connection to young Sam (Malcolm Stumpf) a loving one indeed, until complications arrive. Abbie begins dating a rich and handsome investment banker, Ben (Benjamin Bratt). Ultimately, Ben and Abbie's thoughts turn to the prospect of marriage and a permanent move 3,000 miles from the home shared by Abbie, Robert, and Sam. There's a lot to like about The Next Best Thing, and equally, the potential for solid drama lay somewhere in Tom Ropelewski's somewhat trite script. The film is a pleasant diversion, an aimless piece of entertainment that is nice enough to watch, with some wonderfully funny moments, but remains ultimately forgettable.

The real problems with this film lay in the performances. Those expecting a Madonna film will firstly be disappointed, as it's really Everett's journey that is embarked upon. But Madonna is a problematic 'actress' as it is, and this becomes more than evidence when she is pitted against the formidable likes of Everett. Madonna is incapable of carrying a film, and her lack of ability as a dramatic evidence is merely heightened in a film where she is required to work on a character with so much potential for depth. Once you establish that your lead actress is so basically unconvincing, The Next Best Thing becomes a one-man band, and as impressive as that is at times to watch and listen to, the film could have been more interesting.

Narratively, the film seems haphazard in structure, such as the sudden growth of the son, Sam, and the sudden, neat resolution of the film. Director John Schlesinger, who has crafted classics, seems to have adopted a far more pedestrian and mainstream approach to this material, opting for a lightweight methodology, the end result of which is more simplistic than it ought to be. Next Best Thing is a film that is amiable enough, with a mellow music score and pleasant shots of Los Angeles, but if one looks at the film closely, it's also a movie, which is serious and unmistakeably flawed. As for Madonna, acting is not one of her strengths.

Madonna talks about the flick in her CrankyCritic® StarTalk. Cranky's got his own piece of the pie; his review here

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