Let’s get this out of the way first — “The Best Man Holiday” cast is one of the most attractive in cinematic history. It’s rare when the actors actually look better in a sequel, but even rarer is a sequel that’s better than its predecessor.
Initially, “The Best Man Holiday” seems like a dubious followup. It’s been 14 years since the original “The Best Man,” so why resurrect the plot now? But that decade and a half gap is crucial because when we last saw the friends, they were reeling from Harper Stewart’s (Taye Diggs) not-so-fictional novel that nearly derailed his best friend Lance Sullivan’s (Morris Chestnut) marriage. Add a few years, and the conflicts are about a lot more than who slept with whom. Whether it’s a difficult pregnancy, financial woes, inability to commit to a real relationship, past secrets being dredged up or even illness, the friends need each other now more than ever, whether they like it or not. Their past and current problems make their bond a lot deeper and the film much more nuanced.
There’s a lot of drama in this film but also a lot more heart. What keeps the characters and the plot together is the cast’s authentic chemistry. Director Malcolm D. Lee has achieved a rare feat: it’s hard enough to find a pair of actors with great will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry like Diggs and Nia Long (who plays powerhouse Jordan Armstrong), but he managed to put together nine actors that seem like real friends. “The Best Man Holiday” is one of the atypical films where an ensemble cast isn’t just a gimmick but a strength.
The melodrama of the film isn’t anything new, especially with the added tension of the holidays, but the actors make it unique. Terrence Howard, who was a standout of the original “The Best Man” as player Quentin Spivey, once again adds a sense of levity to the otherwise heavy subject matter with his great comic timing. He and Melissa De Sousa (as drama queen and now Real Housewife Shelby) have caustic flirting down to a hilarious art. Yet it’s reluctantly charming Diggs who grounds the film as a conflicted protagonist that wants to stay out the drama even as he creates it. Harper’s friendship with Lance is still one of the most complex male bonds on screen, and Diggs and Chestnut convey the awkwardness yet love for each other well.
“The Best Man Holiday” shouldn’t work. It’s a long overdue sequel with an occasionally cheesy holiday theme and more actors than presents under the tree. Yet Lee cares about these characters too much to make them cliche, and the cast acts with passion. It’s equal parts sexy (see the sequined blazer dance scene above) and tearjerker sad but ultimately sincere.