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Best Man Down

D: Ted Koland / 89m

Cast: Justin Long, Jess Weixler, Addison Timlin, Tyler Labine, Shelley Long, Frances O’Connor, Evan Jones, Michael Landes

When Scott (Long) gets married to Kristin (Weixler) in Phoenix, there’s only one choice for best man: his best friend Lumpy (Labine).  At the reception, Lumpy drinks too much and his behaviour becomes more and more unacceptable, until Scott is forced to intervene.  Back in his room, Lumpy continues drinking; he has a fall and cracks his head open before passing out.  While the reception continues, Lumpy comes to and stumbles outside of his hotel.  Unable to get back in he heads toward the party but collapses before he can get there.  His body is discovered the next morning.

The news of Lumpy’s death puts Scott and Kristin in a bit of a bind.  Hailing from Minneapolis, they’re unable to afford both their honeymoon and the cost of arranging for Lumpy’s body to be returned home for the funeral.  Deciding to put off their honeymoon, they go through Lumpy’s phone in order to let his friends know what’s happened.  One name that neither of them recognise is that of Ramsey (Timlin).  Tracking her down proves difficult at first but eventually they find out where she lives and travel there to let her know the news about Lumpy.

Ramsey, who is fifteen, lives with her mother, Jaime (O’Connor) and her mother’s boyfriend, Winston (Jones), who is a bully to both of them.  Having got into trouble before, Ramsey is also under the care of the local priest (Landes); he vouches for her when she gets into any further trouble.  When Scott and Kristin meet Ramsey, they begin to learn that they didn’t really know Lumpy at all, and his relationship with the youngster reveals problems that Lumpy was doing his best to deal with (and which go some way to explaining his behaviour at the reception).

Best Man Down - scene

Advertised as a comedy – and with the presence of Long, Labine and Long (who sound like a firm of comedy lawyers), who can blame the makers for doing so – Best Man Down is first and foremost a drama with comedic moments, and not the laugh-fest some viewers might be expecting.  It’s an often heartfelt movie with the central relationship between Lumpy and Ramsey having a depth and a persuasive quality that is at once unexpected and which has an initial awkwardness that is entirely plausible (even if the first scene in Lumpy’s hotel room stretches that same plausibility).  As the mismatched friends, Labine and Timlin shine in their scenes together, and it’s their commitment to the material that makes the characters’ relationship so feasible.

Alas, the movie is on weaker ground when focusing on Scott and Kristin, newlyweds who never seem to have really talked to each other before they got married.  They’ve also lied to each other about some of the financial aspects of their marriage.  They argue a lot; Scott announces out of the blue that he’s quit his job; Kristin denies her increasing reliance on over the counter drugs.  This is a couple whose heads you want to bash together, and not just to make them see sense, but because it would actually make you feel better.  Long wears his exasperated face for most of the movie, and while it suits his character’s story arc to be like that, for the viewer it quickly becomes monotonous.  And though Long plays glum for most of the movie, it’s still preferable to the kooky, wide-eyed mugging that Weixler opts for.

There are other problems inherent in the material: just where is Lumpy’s mother in all this (she doesn’t show up until the funeral)?  Why does the threat posed by Winston, even when he brandishes a gun, feel about as menacing as being pelted with marshmallows?  And why doesn’t Lumpy confide in Scott in the first place – just how close were they really?  (This last question, at least, the movie tries to answer, but in an overly dramatic way that feels designed to add some much needed angst.)  There’s a resolution to Scott’s unemployment that smacks of expediency, and Kristin goes cold turkey without a backward glance; the audience is meant to believe at the movie’s end that their relationship is now much stronger, but in real life, the jury would still be deliberating.

With the movie proving so uneven, it’s left to the cast to make the most of writer/director Koland’s wayward script.  As mentioned above, Labine and Timlin come off best, while Long and Weixler appear lacklustre by comparison.  In support, O’Connor takes a clichéd role and wrings some invention out of it, Jones mistakes pouting for intimidation, and Shelley Long is almost unrecognisable as Kristin’s mother (it’s only when she speaks that it becomes obvious it’s her).  Koland directs too carefully for the movie’s own good, and never quite knows where the camera would be best placed; it’s a very unadventurous movie to watch.  On the plus side there is some magnificent, wintry location photography, and a pleasant, understated score by Mateo Messina.

Rating: 5/10 – unable to overcome its in-built limitations, Best Man Down stumbles along like a punch-drunk fighter refusing to stay down; another movie with twin storylines, though with just the one that’s at all interesting.

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