Movies this brimming with emotional content ought to come with some sort of warning. In fact, the rich blend even seems preposterous to people in the movie. Two-thirds along, Quentin (Terrence Howard), admittedly stoned and standing around in a Santa suit, says, “Man, that was some melodramatic shit.” And this is before the movie’s big guns — man, woman, life, death, infinity — even come out. There’s also a pro football game on Christmas, which Lance (played with towering rage and righteousness by Morris Chestnut) needs to win.
Sure, The Best Man Holiday is heavily lathered with clichés; it’s a Christmas film implanted into a juicy college-friends-reunion movie. But it’s also compellingly engrossing. Writer and director Malcolm D. Lee works the turf far more ingeniously than any of his colleagues do, examining the lifestyles and blowouts of an African-American present played out in affluent surroundings, all the while embracing all the snap and crackle of R-rated sitcom dialogue. (There’s a stunningly poetic and hilarious riff on rocking the black microphone.) Lee’s characters may be types — the writer, the athlete, the druggy hedonist, the saint — but they seem vital and nicely balance out the vulgar snaps and heart-throbbing “I love you man” syrup. What’s really best about this corny emoti-fest is the ensemble. None of these actors were familiar when the first Best Man movie opened in 1999 (except Chestnut, who debuted so strongly in Boyz n the Hood), but nobody steals the show. This movie’s a lot closer to The Big Chill than it is to any Tyler Perry film; though the political subtext is wrapped up in the premise, people have more than their eyes on the prize — they’re paying heavy mortgages on it, too.
Melodramas are movies at their best. Maybe we thrill over the sweeping epics, but family sagas of sex and mayhem are what we watch over and over. Still, this is a movie that turns heart-jerking into a WWF cage match. And it’s more than enough Christmas to get sugarplums dancing in your head.