How far would you go to fit in?
Alisha Glazer lies comatose in an ICU hospital bed. Acting Sheriff Artie Bonner has to figure out why. The last people with Alisha were her snobbish rich college friends: Hadley, Sydney, and Julianne. Sydney is a sluttish bisexual who uses sex as an introduction, and a crutch. Julianne is a curvaceous young woman awash in low self-esteem and an eating disorder. And then there's Hadley, the quintessential poor little rich girl, happy in her material world but vacant everywhere else. Alisha falls into their pampered laps when she is paired with Hadley for a college sociology project. Despite their class differences, they work well together and learn a lot from each other. Alisha breaks out of her shell, diving headfirst into the drinking, drugs, and debauchery that make up everyday college life. It's only when she starts treading in their carefully guarded (and coveted) territory that our three bitches realize she may pose a real threat, not just to their way of life, but to their concept of who they are. Tragedy occurs, and everyone has a version of the story and assorted reasons why Alisha might be near death. It's up to Sheriff Bonner to wade through the web of deception and lies and find the truth, no matter who or what it leads to.
New Best Friend is a movie of attempts. It attempts to be a provocative thriller. It attempts to dramatize the dynamics between classes (and to some extent, races). It attempts to deal with the destructiveness of excess, be it substance or emotional. It attempts to be a Rashomon-style mystery, leaving the audience guessing until the last minute. About the only thing it doesn't attempt to be is coherent or entertaining. It's a bloodless bipolar bust with a wildly jumbled structure that requires extensive time lining and character mapping to figure out who is who. As a dramatic rule, characters should grow, reach epiphanies, and sometimes spiral back down into their own personal universe. But New Best Friend is not in the business of showcasing individual evolution. It's in the business of immortalizing personality shape shifters. Characters here appear one way in scene "A," are portrayed differently in flashback "B" and change again for recollection "C." Mood swings and altered persona states dog pile on top of each other to the point where nothing is real, rendering the central mystery (what happened to Alisha?) moot. Even if Sherlock Holmes rose from the literary grave and spent three hours of screen time dissecting the evidence, we still wouldn't understand who everyone truly was or the accurate fact pattern.
On the included commentary track, director Zoe Clarke-Williams offers excuses, and justifications, for her film. Sometimes she blames budget. Most of the time she blames the script. She confides that this would not be her "take" on the material, wanting to move away from the mystery and focus more on the girls. That would be fine, but this is a whodunit, and to regale a reasonable resolution to the back burner disrespects the narrative. She even discusses the rewriting and ab libbing done to the script, actions not conducive to a tight, well-plotted detective story. Frankly, there really is no secret as to who caused the near fatal overdose. Samuel Morse would be proud of how well and often it's telegraphed. She cannot fault the acting. Its very good for the most part, even if no one is given very much to do. The girls are serviceable in their archetypical roles. But Taye Diggs, who combines good looks with serious dramatic chops, is completely wasted, required to do nothing more than walk around and ask some obvious questions. When we cannot follow, identify, or sympathize with the main characters, or the goal of our protagonist, a crucial cinematic link is broken, and no other aspect of New Best Friend can reattach it.
It's a shame that such a lifeless and confusing film is presented in one of the best DVD packages, both visually and aurally, that Columbia TriStar has put out recently. They are just not known for giving their titles, from major releases to marginal product decent transfer treatment. With two versions of the film available on one disc (wide or full screen) one would expect compression defects, but there are none here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 also sounds exceptional, with outstanding separation in the mix. Along with the aforementioned commentary, there are cast filmographies and bonus trailers. There is one major drawback to the commentary, though. The director speaks is such a soft, quiet tone that even with the volume turned up all the way, her waifish sigh is next to impossible to hear clearly. And indecipherability is par for the course with New Best Friend. Its storyline is chaotic, its flashback format too insular, and the resolution is buried in glamour shots, jiggling body parts, and faux fashion trendiness. This dreary exercise in style over substance wants desperately to be part of your circle of trusted cinematic companions. It only succeeds in quickly wearing out its tentative welcome.
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Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary
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