The Next Best Thing (2000)
Main cast: Rupert Everett (Robert), Madonna (Abbie), Benjamin Bratt (Ben), Michael Vartan (Kevin), Malcolm Stumpf (Sam), Neil Patrick Harris (David), and Illeana Douglas (Elizabeth Ryder)
Director: John Schlesinger

This star vehicle for best buddies Rupert Everett and Madonna is an uneven movie at best. The two main stars radiate warmth and great chemistry that bring a smile on my face, but for the most part, dialogues are awfully corny and the secondary characters in TNBT are cardboards at best. It's as if this movie is unsure whether to be an amateurish social commentary or just a straight movie about the consequences of fag-hagdom.

Abbie is best buddy with Robert. Robert's gay, and hence is a Woman's Best Friend. When he comforts Abbie after she is dumped by Kevin (It's not you, it's me Kevin says, followed by really awful dialogue about wanting a simple undemanding woman), they end up in bed. In that thirty minutes, voila! A baby is born.

Robert and Abbie set up a home to be Mom and Dad, although both lead separate lives when it comes too romance, dates, and sex. However, when Abbie meets and falls in love with one-dimensional knight in shining armor Ben (jeesh, at least give him a different name, people!), these two bosom buddies embark in a melodramatic child custody fight that would tear their friendship apart.

"I'm cowering behind a flowerpot! He's really leaving! What shall I do?" Abbie gasps tearfully into her cellphone to Robert at the other end ten minutes into the movie. Eeek, what a thing to say! And it goes downhill. Poor Abbie's role is so severely underwritten that she comes as nothing more than a not-too-bright, insecure, whiny, clingy, and neurotic woman at times. Madonna tries her best in her badly-written role, and to an extent she succeeds. She bestows upon Abbie a likeability and a down-to-eath nature.

And her onscreen chemistry with Rupert is amazing. They are obviously so comfortable with each other that it shows: the warm exchange of jokes and friendly insults really shine. It's a pity that the script is so focused on them, or more specifically, Robert, that everything else about TNBT is casualty city.

The best - and probably the only good - thing about this movie is the genuinely warm, unforced, and gentle rapport between Abbie, Robert, and their son. I can believe that these two adults really love Sam so much that they die inside subjecting the boy to the final court drama. But it's something they have to do - both love Sam too much to let go. And the court drama never comes off a gratuitous - the whole situation is indeed a tangled yarn that there is very little alternative solution to it.

I don't regret watching TNBT. It's a so-so movie, preachy at times, and the dialogues make me cringe, but all is forgiven when Abbie and Robert finally make peace at the end. They do make a wonderful couple, really. Makes me lose faith in heterosexual relationships, I tell you.

Rating: 67

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