New Best Friend

on April 12, 2002 by Michael Tunison
   The coming-of-age college drama converges unmemorably with the whodunit in director Zoe Clarke-Williams' sophomore feature “New Best Friend,” a frequently well-acted but otherwise unimpressive effort that won't do wonders for the filmmaker's grade point average.

   Set at an exclusive university in North Carolina, the story concerns the melodramatic repercussions that result when Alicia (“Exotica's” Mia Kirshner), a scholarship student from humble origins, worms her way into a circle of spoiled rich kids headed by the intimidatingly beautiful and popular Hadley (Meredith Monroe from TV's “Dawson's Creek”). Victoria Strouse's script relates this as a series of flashbacks as a campus cop (“The Best Man's” Taye Diggs) investigates a cocaine overdose that has left Alicia in a coma. Was the overdose really an accident, as Alicia's new friends maintain, or is it possible foul play was involved?

   Director Clarke-Williams (“Men”) clearly means to portray Alicia as a fascinating enigma whose mysterious and contradictory behavior will pull the viewer through the story like some co-ed Charles Foster Kane, but, despite some strong work from the talented Kirshner and the equally impressive Monroe, nothing in “New Best Friend” is ever half so intriguing as the filmmakers seem to think it is. The angst-ridden, affluent slacker characters are more grating than engaging, with only their enthusiasm for alternative-lifestyle sexual escapades keeping them from becoming flat-out dull.

   Even less effective is the clumsy investigation framing device, which, thanks to some hackneyed TV cop show dialogue and the lack of visible age difference between Diggs and the other characters, plays like a not particularly good student film. As for the mystery element's resolution, it's only surprising in that few viewers are likely to anticipate such an obvious solution. A bigger mystery is what led up-and-coming stars as compelling as Kirshner, Monroe and Diggs to sign on to “New Best Friend” in the first place. Starring Meredith Monroe, Mia Kirshner, Dominique Swain, Rachel True, Taye Diggs and Scott Bairstow. Directed by Zoe Clarke-Williams. Written by Victoria Strouse. Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. A TriStar release. Mystery/Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality, language and drug use. Running time: 90 min

Tags: Meredith Monroe, Mia Kirshner, Dominique Swain, Rachel True, Taye Diggs, Scott Bairstow, Zoe Clarke-Williams, mystery, Frank Mancuso Jr., coming-of-age, college

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