Best Man Down (2012) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, drug content, some sexuality, and brief language
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Justin Long, Jess Wiexler, Addison Timlin, Tyler Labine, Frances O'Connor, Evan Jones, Michael Landes, Shelley Long
Director: Ted Koland
Screenplay: Ted Koland
Review published October 25, 2013
It's the day of the big wedding for lovebirds Scott (Justin Long, Youth in Revolt) and Kristin (Jess Weixler, Little Manhattan), who put together lots of their own money, including much borrowed, in order to see the day happen, and the subsequent blissful honeymoon to come. However, the honeymoon will have to wait when Scott's best man, Lumpy (Labine, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), mysteriously dies while out in the desert of Arizona. With none of Lumpy's family or friends in sight, Scott utilizes whatever resources he has in order to try to give his oldest friend a proper funeral, which includes the honeymoon fund, much to Kristin's chagrin. Armed with but a few scant names from Lumpy's cell phone, he means to inform those who may have been close to the deceased about his passing.
Their travels take them back to Minnesota, where they are looking for a Ramsey Anderson, the only real name in the contacts. We learn that Ramsey (Timlin, Stand Up Guys) is an equally lonely 15-year-old girl whom Lumpy befriended (but is it more?), living in a household full of drug use and abuse.
Written and directed by Ted Koland ("Saints & Sinners", "Fashion House"), Best Man Down is a seriocomedy that tries to be much more than a run-of-the-mill wedding comedy, delving into themes of friendship, loss, and the true value in trying to find someone who can listen to you, and not just hear you. While we originally view Lumpy as just another drunken oaf at the wedding reception, as Scott and Kristin dig deeper into his past, the more surprised they are at the kind of man they find.
Unfortunately, despite some nicely portrayed poignant moments, the film fails due to two main reasons. The primary reason is that it isn't particularly funny for a film that halfway plays for comedy. Dramedy's are par for the course, particularly in indie releases like this one, but the tonal shift is too wild to allow either side of the equation, comedy and drama, to mature to bigger payoffs. It's a film that juxtaposes 'boner humor' with death, and drunken debauchery with abusive households that sees a father figure brandish a gun to a teenage girl to coerce her into buying cold medicine to create meth with. And then there are the odd, overstated choices for character touches -- the junkie mother, the meth dealing boyfriend, the fatal diseases, the addiction to prescription drugs. We meet Ramsey's uncle, a priest, just after he has engaged in sex with another man -- a seemingly interesting tie-in to reveal that most characters live secret lives, even to those who they are closest to, but seems cheap and chintzy when used as a device in this film. The screenplay has that manufactured drama feel to it.
The secondary reason has to do with the fact that Scott is not a very likeable protagonist to have to follow, and despite the rom-com pedigree of star Justin Long, there's just not enough personality there to think that Kristin couldn't have done much better in the marriage department than a guy who jettisons, without any sort of consultation, their plans in order to facilitate the funeral of a friend who, it is contrived, has absolutely no family or friends to pay for the services (Lumpy's mother is later revealed, but it's uncertain why she didn't play a more active role). Knowing that their finances will continue to be an issue doesn't dissuade Scott from also quitting his job, putting them in further dire financial straits, again without ever consulting the woman he is supposed to be sharing his life with. How a man who seems to disregard his life-mate's opinion on nearly everything important could hide this side to him all the way through courtship, engagement, and then reveal it after marriage seems farfetched, but despicable if one imagines him deliberately misleading a woman until he has her 'in his pocket'.
Best Man Down, which had the original title of Lumpy (an apt adjective for the screenplay), sat for over two years before finally seeing the light of day in an 'on demand' setting. With a mix of good parts and bad parts, it's low-key enough to make one feel surprised at its occasionally effective mournful moments, and then jocular enough in other times to make one feel disappointed in its inability to convey proper mirthful moments. It's not exactly odd, but it's definitely uneven.
©2013 Vince Leo