The Next Best Thing

on March 03, 2000 by Bridget Byrne
   "The Next Best Thing" is a very Hollywood movie--very faux reality. The filmmakers would like it to be thought of as a sort of "Kramer vs. Kramer" for the new millennium, but it's actually more likely to remind one of "Pillow Talk," an artificial sexual comedy about emotional misunderstanding. At least it starts out that way with a reasonable level of frothy wit, but then makes major mistakes of its own by tacking off into "serious" stuff about the right to love free of the impediment of any crossed wires.
   But Madonna is no Doris Day, and Rupert Everett, with the razzmatazz and assurance to knock Rock Hudson into a cocked hat, has too much star power to make for an evenly balanced pas de deux. His pas de chat of a performance outshines Madonna's much blander portrayal from first shot to last. He's the real thing. She, as usual, tries hard but seems manufactured. He gleams both within and without. She seems merely shellacked, and streakily at that.
   Set in Los Angeles during the shifting dynamics of current culture, the story pairs Madonna and Everett who, despite different sexual orientations, become parents to a son and happily raise him together. But when an extremely glossy, straight investment banker, played by Benjamin Bratt, locks eyes with Madonna at her yoga studio, the cozy menage shreds faster than a lawyer's brief.
   John Schlesinger, who used to made really penetrating films about sex and friendship ("Midnight Cowboy" and "Sunday, Bloody, Sunday" in particular), is a stylish director who clearly enjoys his camera's focus on both Los Angeles and its occupants, but he can't manage to pull off the transition from bitchy witty to bitchy mean which the script demands, and the court scene arguments never tweak at the heartstrings as they are meant to do. Having the baby is fun; dealing with the consequences is pretty dreary.
   Everett turns every phrase the script hands him with aplomb, while Madonna hangs in as essentially the straight man. Bratt fulfills his good-looking nice guy role just fine, and Lynn Redgrave clearly enjoys herself showing off as Everett's supportive mother. But they're just bright cherries bobbing atop an ill-mixed sweet and sour cocktail. Starring Rupert Everett and Madonna. Directed by John Schlesinger. Written by Thomas Ropelewski. Produced by Marcus Viscidi and Richard S. Wright. A Paramount release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, partial nudity and language. Running time: 107 min
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