If “The Next Best Thing” is the next best thing, “The Best Thing” must really suck. Reviewers everywhere will designate this saccharine slop-pile of a romantic comedy about a-spunky-yoga-instructor (Madonna) who oops-and-falls-accidentally into getting impregnated by her over-waxed-gay-buddy (Rupert Everett) a political statement on the de-evolution of the American family, but it’s really nothing more than a self-affirming matinee alternative for unwed mothers burned-out on “Ricki Lake.”
Remember when Madonna was hot? Well, my young friends, those days are gone, and because Maddy is angry, resentful, and frustrated about it, she decided to make a movie about the current state of her life to make herself feel better and make us feel really bad while we watch it. Madonna plays Madonna, except her name in the movie is Abbie, a pushing middle-age bindi-wearer who devotes the majority of her time to being a f*g-hag (sound familiar?). Everett, on the other hand, plays Robert, a glorified gardener (and I think we all know what *that* means) who can look handsome and deliver a quip *at the same time*. Clearly, both actors are really stretching their craft here; even Madonna-buddy Everett seems embarrassed on-screen opposite Her Self-Awareness.
One night, these two wacky friends get drunk and end up doing the slap and tickle, something that probably happens all the time when straight girls are friends with sexy gay boys, and somebody ends up knocked up (Hint: it’s not Robert). So, the two, like any good postmodern gay-man/straight-woman couple, set up an “alternative family unit” whose example is supposed to transform this vanity bio-pic, which could be subtitled: “All Men Are Sperm Banks,” into a fabulously important portrait of how wonderfully unique and kooky all our lives could be if we just embraced everyone and every lifestyle no matter how unique and kooky. And, for awhile, we are informed the new-type-o-family is the best, as a six-year jump ahead in film time means no dirty diapers or messy spit-up while they raise the kid together.
But, along comes trouble, in the hetero-spectre of Benjamin Bratt as the inspiredly-named Ben, on-leave from real-life with Julia Roberts to play the object of Madonna/Abbie’s affection and the man who throws a wrench into this perfectly non-sexual marriage. Damn heterosexuality! Trite romantic comedy turns trite courtroom drama here in a battle for kiddie-custody, delivering the rest of “The Next Best Thing” into the realm of “The Next Worst Thing to ‘The Next Best Thing.'” Don’t worry, folks though, it’s a feel-good flick, so you can bet your three-way family everyone will try really hard to can’t-we-all-just-get-along in the end.
It must be nice, one would imagine, if you are a single mother who has spent your life pursuing one doomed romantic affair after another, to turn it into a movie whose point is that you f**k for social justice. We should all be so inspired. Madonna has been forever the queen of self-promotion; now she’s got movie studios funding it and “Midnight Cowboy”-director John Schlesinger steering it (shouldn’t have gotten off the bus at that stop). If you can’t have it all, sayeth Madonna to the ladies, the next best thing is to play a character who believes she does and hope the critics mistake your personal for the political yet again.