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Wednesday, October 27, 1999

The Best Man

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 1999 at 12:00 AM

When a movie centers around a wedding, it’s usually the betrothed who are going through a crisis. In writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s debut film, it’s the best man who’s transformed by the experience.

Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) has two things making him nervous as he prepares to reunite with his close-knit group of college friends at the wedding of Lance (Morris Chestnut) and Mia (Monica Calhoun). One is the inevitability of seeing bridesmaid Jordan Armstrong (Nia Long), "the best girlfriend he never had." The other is the possibility that his friends will get an advance copy of his first novel, Unfinished Business, whose thinly veiled characters are based on them, and which reveals a closely guarded secret.

Within the wedding reunion scenario, Malcolm Lee has constructed an interesting character study of four very different men whose personalities are largely determined by how they view women.

A professional football player, former philanderer and deeply religious man, Lance’s devotion to Mia is anchored by his belief that he’s been her first and only lover. The altruistic, kindhearted Murch (Harold Perrineau) repeatedly lets himself be manipulated by the selfish Shelby (Melissa De Sousa). Smooth-talking lothario Quentin (a scene-stealing Terrence Howard) sees women as things to be conquered, then abandoned when they become too demanding. As for Harper, who seems insightful but doesn’t know his own heart, he’s forced to truly examine his feelings for not just Jordan, but his longtime girlfriend, Robin (Sanaa Lathan).

Lee effectively weaves together the stress-filled wedding preparations with scenes of the friends’ collegiate lives, showing how that past still determines their actions.

Populated by matter-of-factly prosperous black characters, The Best Man breaks no new ground, but comfortably updates old romantic conventions. Jumping the broom may be his film’s focus, but Malcolm Lee seems more concerned with showing how boys cresting 30 can finally become men.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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