it's not adulating over Rupert Everett's musculature or serving as a commercial
for Madonna's recently-discovered Hindu mysticism, The Next Best Thing is
merely awful and monstrously self-absorbed.
and Madonna play Robert and Abbie, who get drunk one night and -- whoops! --
conceive a child. Since Abbie is single and decides to have it, and Robert is
gay, they platonically move in under one roof to raise the new baby together.
Six years pass in the blink of an eye, and the baby has grown into the form of
happy, healthy, sunny Sam. The movie provides no explanation as to what kind of
dynamics the two adults used to bring him up and prepare him for the outside
world, nor how they would address whatever questions or concerns would arise in
his burgeoning young mind.
is allowed to have one relationship in the story, which is over before it even
gets started because, he says, he has to think about his son first and foremost
all the time. (Meaning he has to live a sexless existence?) Abbie, on the other
hand, receives much, much more screen time for her growing relationship with a
New York financier (Benjamin Bratt), and in no time at all she's slapping Robert
with a suit to gain sole custody of "her" son.
an infuriating plot twist thrown in towards the end that is supposed to make
things more uncomplicated for the characters, but instead neuters this would-be
daring and unconventional drama even more than it already is. The only reason
young Sam is in the picture is so that he can be an object for the two leads to
either fawn, or fight, over. The director John Schlesinger seems to have simply
stepped away from the lead actors, allowing these two beautiful creatures to
come together on-screen. When the camera isn't mesmerized by his body, Rupert
Everett gives it a good try in one or two scenes, but he can't seem to figure
out how to play a character that basically doesn't make any sense. Madonna
returns to the frozen attitudinizing that made Body of Evidence such an
agony to sit through. Her face enshrined by long, curling strands of hair, she
is serene, poised, and monotonous, to the point that all her line readings begin
to sound the same after a while.
of intimidating a wide audience, the movie doesn't even say out loud that one
character dies of AIDS.-related causes, or that another is HIV- positive. (The
Don McLean song American Pie was chosen for Madonna to record because it
was deemed more "upbeat" than the original choice, Patti Smith's Easter.)
In which case, why did they bother to make a movie about these characters and
this situation in the first place?
John Schlesinger should be doubly ashamed because, long, long time ago, he made a now-classic film about relationships that cross conventional boundaries, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, which has all the complexity, sophistication and smarts that this film lacks. But Schlesinger has become notorious for doing his best work in the U.K. (Cold Comfort Farm, The Innocent, and two TV. films, An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution, based on the Burgess-Maclean case), while saving his flabby, contemptuous work for American-made films. He has recently acquired the film rights to Larry Kramer's play, The Normal Heart, and has announced that he would like to make a film version of it. We can only hope that it will be a more adventurous and honorable effort than this.