The Next Best Thing
as reviewed by Skylaire Alfvegren
Ugh. Babies. They’re loud, self-absorbed, noisy, expensive. And yet, people, usually the boring, Gap-clad buffoons paying off their Sentras and listening to Top 40 radio, respond to that inner whine that instructs them to replicate their DNA.
Madonna, herself noisy, self-absorbed, and prone to stupidities worldy success only amplifies, takes on men and religious beliefs as if they were couture. Recently replicating her own DNA in the form of daughter Lourdes, The Next Best Thing seems to be a thinly veiled account of the Material Girl’s last few years, spent devouring Eastern mysticism and dumping her daughter’s dad, Carlos. Imagine the movie this would’ve been, has Madonna made it while still studying the Kabbalah and lifting free weights.
As it stands, Madonna plays Abbie, a yoga instructor on the brink of middle age, who has a night of passion with her gay best friend, Robert (Everett). After Abbie discovers she’s preganant, Robert moves into her dreamy aquamarine palace and the pair decide to raise the child together.
At least Madonna’s been a consistent fag hag. The movie’s only saving grace, apart from whatever sanity director John Schlesinger managed to fit in, is the inclusion of Rupert Everett, who is gay, if you didn’t know, and also happens to be Madonna’s close pal. (And even though Robert flunked his “gay history,” he’s seduced by Abbie, dressed like Rita Hayworth in Gilda.)
After five years of nonconubial bliss, Abbie hooks up with an investment banker played by Julia Robert’s dimpled beau, Benjamin Bratt. Just when you’re saying “there’s no tension,” The Next Best Thing downshifts into a leaden court room drama. Madonna’s character turns out to be be the deplorable bitch you’d expect, while the gay dad gets the shaft (no pun intended).
Not a hairdresser but a landscape artist, Robert has all the best lines. Even the cow patties will make you chortle, thanks to Everett’s effervescence. Madonna, whose acting is as stiff as her biceps, enunciates every line as if she were Olivier in Hamlet, and it’s only her chemistry with Everett that stops you from wanting to claw her eyeballs out. Schlesinger, himself of the lavender persuasion, fills the movie to bursting with breath-taking but unexpected shots of Los Angeles, and is certainly sympathetic to Robert’s plight, even casting a delightful Lynn Redgrave as his supportive, gin-swilling mother. But it’s Madonna’s movie, so you really can’t expect much, can you? If only screenwriter Thomas Ropelewski had spent as much time developing his script as Madonna has spent sculpting her upper body, The Next Best Thing could’ve been funny, or important, or moving. Instead, it’s just like Madonna: superficial, and gay-friendly in only the most superficial of ways.