Judge Patrick Bromley thinks every wedding should include a guy named "Lumpy."
Just when you think you know someone…
Writer/director Ted Koland's debut feature Best Man Down is the most frustrating kind of movie—the kind that's just good enough that it ought to be better. There are so many good elements at work, but they come in flashes and don't quite add up to a movie that works as well as it should.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Tyler Labine plays Lumpy, the titular best man who—and this is not a spoiler—drops dead at the wedding of his best friend Scott (Justin Long, Movie 43) to new wife Chris (Jess Weixler, Teeth). Now the newlyweds must cancel their honeymoon and travel home to Minnesota to bury Scott's friend. Along the way, they make some surprising discoveries about who Lumpy might really have been, including his connection to a 15-year-old girl named Ramsey (Addison Timlin, Stand Up Guys) with a troubled home life.
On its face, Best Man Down feels like a movie bogged down in indie movie cuteness, from its quirky premise to the over-written character names (I can't tell you how much I wished Labine's character had been named anything but "Lumpy") to the wall-to-wall indie rock score, which is always very pretty but a bit too on-the-nose, emotionally speaking. The good news is that the movie has more emotional depth than any of this would suggest.
Long and Weixler are very good as the couple thrown into tragic and bizarre circumstances, and there are hints at some of the rough road they have ahead (much of it having to do with money, which continues to play a huge role in many of their conversations). Questions are raised about the difference between what is a "best" friend and just one's oldest friend, and whether or not those are the same thing. Weixler's character is obviously overmedicating her troubles away, not the least of which being the anxiety brought on by the constant needling of her mother (played by Shelley Long). There's good stuff in all of this, only Ted Koland doesn't seem to trust his moments. Anything implicit is made explicit by having characters flat out speak the subtext a lot of the time, and it's frustrating. There are the building blocks of a really good character piece about relationships inside Best Man Down, but then out of nowhere a character will be caught masturbating and we'll remember that Koland is too stuck making a movie to say something about real life. Not all the time, but enough.
Timlin's performance as 15-year-old Ramsey is so good that she manages to overcome the cliches surrounding her character—the white trash mom (Frances O'Connor, Book of Love) who talks to a psychic, the possibly abusive stepdad (Evan Jones, The Book of Eli) who is selling and taking drugs, the kids at school who are pointlessly cruel. All the supporting details of Ramsey's life seem informed by a Lifetime movie, which isn't to say that there aren't 15-year-olds whose lives are very much like that, just that Koland hasn't considered any of the details make any of it feel lived-in and real. The movie wants to set up a character who has never felt loved and takes the shortest possible route to get there. Koland deserves credit for the way the movie pays off the relationship between Ramsey (ugh) and Lumpy (ugh ugh), even if it does feel pat and gets everyone off the hook. Those moments are handled nicely, especially by Timlin and Labine. Their scenes together are so good that we're left wanting more of them.
That's true of the movie as a whole. In a climate in which most movies need to lose about a half hour, Best Man Down is the rare film that could stand to be a bit longer. There are just too many story lines to service, to many relationships to explore. Koland spends 80 minutes establishing a lot of good stuff and then, apparently realizing it's time to wrap things up, just tosses it all away with a series of too-neat conveniences. It doesn't undo everything that came before, but it's difficult not to think the film would resonate a lot more if Koland had stuck the landing.
Magnolia's DVD of Best Man Down gets the job done, with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that's natural and pleasant, with stable colors and no disruptive digital tinkering. The 5.1 surround audio track keeps the dialogue clear in the center channel while reserving the the remaining speakers primarily for the moody indie rock that populates the soundtrack. There's a smattering of bonus features including an outtake reel, short interviews with director Koland and star Long, an EPK-style featurette and the film's original theatrical trailer.
I come down on the side of liking Best Man Down because of its performances and the moments of emotional honesty that manage to peek through the indie preciousness. It's flawed in the way that a lot of well-intentioned first efforts tend to be flawed, suggesting that Ted Koland may have a very good movie in him once he's able to focus in on the stuff that works and ditch the stuff that doesn't.
Good enough that I wish it was better.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
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