The Next Best Thing

Directed by John Schlesinger
Starring: Rupert Everett, Madonna, Benjamin Bratt, Malcolm Stumpf, Lynn Redgrave, Illeana Douglas.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, partial nudity and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
March 4, 2000

How many great directors can fall in one weekend? Admittedly, John Schlesinger hasn't directed a successful film (critically or financially) in ten years, but this is a low point. His greatest film was Midnight Cowboy, but that was over 30 years ago. Is it a coincidence that this weekend's other fallen hero, Mike Nichols, peaked with another Dustin Hoffman film -- The Graduate? I smell a conspiracy.

Schlesinger's new film stars Rupert Everett as Robert, a gay gardener in Los Angeles who is best friends with Abbie (Madonna), a yoga instructor. Abbie's boyfriend moves out of her apartment at roughly the same time as one of Robert's old boyfriends dies. While comforting each other, drinking heavily, and stealing dance numbers from Singin' in the Rain, they fall into a moment of passion. It threatens to ruin their friendship, until Abbie announces a couple weeks later that she is pregnant.

They decide to move in together and raise the child, but they won't try a pointless marriage. When their son, Sam (Malcolm Stumpf), is six, Abbie meets an investment banker from New York named Ben (Benjamin Bratt) in her yoga class. They fall in love, and Ben wants to marry her and bring her back East, but Robert intends to remain a part of Sam's life.

The Next Best Thing is nothing more than a predictable, yet ridiculous soap opera. It's bad enough that Schlesinger had to sink so low, but he drags down Everett with him. Unlike Inspector Gadget, Everett does turn in a good performance, but it is a severe waste of his talents. Of course, Madonna is no help. This latest attempt at becoming a "serious" actress is a total failure. Here, she expresses all the emotion of a melting ice cube: some tears are shed, but she just leaves you cold.

But wait! Isn't this supposed to be a comedy? That's what the ad campaign would lead you to believe. There are a few chuckles here and there, but they all come from Everett's charming wit and perfect comic timing. The screenplay by Tom Ropelewski (writer and director of Look Who's Talking Now -- how's that for a double credit?) had only a peripheral involvement in any positive aspects of this film. Did Schlesinger even read it before he agreed to direct it?

Not only are the director and star embarrased by this, small parts by Lynn Redgrave (as Robert's mother) and Illeana Douglas (as Robert's lawyer), while pretty good themselves, cannot save this film. Save yourself some money, and stay home. You can rent Midnight Cowboy (and The Graduate, too -- why not?) and be contently oblivious to the sad state of affairs at the theatre.

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The Next Best Thing (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan