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Paramount Studios presents
The Next Best Thing (2000)

Abbie: All they have are 30's musicals.
Robert: They got stuck in the depression.
Abbie: So did I.

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: August 29, 2000

Stars: Madonna, Rupert Everett
Other Stars: Benjamin Bratt, Lynn Redgrave, Michael Vartan
Director: John Schlesinger

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, sexual content, partial nudity and language
Run Time: 01h:47m:00s
Release Date: August 29, 2000
UPC: 097363342243
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C B-B+C+ B-

DVD Review

Let me start by saying that there is a history of diabetes in my family and I regularly need to have my sugar levels checked for early signs. So it was with that in mind that I sat down to watch The Next Best Thing, a film that I avoided like the plague while in theaters, much to the dismay of my then girlfriend. While not quite the sugar feast I was expecting, the film does have its saccharine moments. But the final half of the film offers up a startling dose of reality I was not expecting.

Trying to describe The Next Best Thing is like talking about two films that might have worked well on their own. The first act plays more like a 30-minute sitcom. Robert (Everett) and Abbie (Madonna) are introduced to each other while they are both recovering from relationships that ended badly. It just so happens that both were in relationships with men. They become best friends and do everything friends do together, but on one night things get out of control when they have too much to drink, and they have sex. They let several weeks go by without speaking to each other until Abbie learns that she is pregnant. The "couple" makes the decision to move in together and raise the child, Sam, without the benefit of marriage. The second half, which occurs six years later, shows a change from being a sweet-natured romantic comedy to a more serious drama. Robert and Abbie seem to have the perfect home life until Ben (Bratt) comes into Abbie's life, and sweeps her off her feet. Robert fears he will forced out of Sam's life as talk of marriage starts to flow. A fierce custody battle begins and the two former friends quickly become enemies.

While the first act does nothing more than offer two good friends (Everett and Madonna) a chance to star along side of each other in what is essentially a cookie-cutter romantic comedy, the second act is where the heart of this film lies. I wonder how much better the film could have been had more attention been paid to the custody case. This film doesn't pretend to be Kramer vs. Kramer by any means, but it does offer questions about the role sexual preference plays in an individual's ability to be a parent and how important demonstrated love and commitment can be versus blood-types and DNA. I can only hope that at some point in the future someone does make a film that addresses these questions on a larger scale and gives them the attention they deserve.

Directed by Academy Award® winner John Schlesinger, this film represents the latest in a long downstroke for a once gifted director—but with films like Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man, and even the recent Cold Comfort Farm under his belt, a minor misstep such as this can be accepted. Schlesinger handles the emotional moments of the film with surprising toughness—it feels as though you are going through the custody battle with Robert. The script by Tom Ropelewski is the weakest link as it very rarely goes above the arc of a conventional film. The cinematography by Elliot Davis is above average for a film of this type although anyone who saw Out Of Sight should be convinced that this man paints a pretty picture.

It is unfortunate that most of the attention paid to the cast is because of the presence of the "Material Girl" herself, Madonna. While Ms. Ciccone has been worse (Body Of Evidence, anyone?), she does a worthy job here as a woman who is forced to go through a myriad of emotions. But the main reason to see this film is Rupert Everett. At first I was a bit shocked to see his name ahead of Madonna's in the credits; but after watching the film I understand why. Everett shows great range as Robert, forced to show both a strong comedic side as well as a darkly dramatic one. Everett is one of the few actors who has yet to disappoint me—this film should be the one that takes him from being a supporting actor to a leading man. Supporting roles by Benjamin Bratt and Lynn Redgrave are worthy efforts, as are performances by Michael Vartan and Neil Patrick Harris.

The Next Best Thing is the kind of film that I would feel guilty watching on a lazy weekend afternoon. When it works, it works; but when it fails, it fails. Those interested in watching a very flat comedy would be advised to stop the film at the halfway point. And those looking for a film that could have been something great with more effort put in to it should seek this film out.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review:
Paramount has done a fine job with the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that is included on the disc. There are very minor flaws that do pop up occasionally throughout the film but they are hardly noticeable. Sharpness is fine, as are fleshtones. Black levels are fine with no visible grain at any time. I noticed no pixelation or shimmering during the film. The colors are the real wonder of this disc: the dominant tans and greens are vibrant. All in all a very nice transfer is offered by the folks at Paramount.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review:
While not as much a delight as the image transfer, the Dolby Digital 5.0 track is more than is needed for a film of this type. Mainly a three-channel mix, the sound is evenly matched across the front three speakers for a nice clear soundfield. The surrounds very rarely come alive during the film and I believe I only noticed one or two moments when they showed any activity at all. No bass track is provided. Dialogue is clear and understandable with no low spots. A Dolby 2.0 and French surround tracks are also provided. English subtitles are also offered.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:38s

Extra Extras:
  1. American Pie music video by Madonna
Extras Review:
While not a packed-to-the-gills special edition, The Next Best Thing does have a few extras to whet your appetite. First up is the video for the controversial remake of Don Mclean's classic American Pie by Madonna. I will take a large risk in revealing that I do like the update and I respect Madonna for taking on the daunting task of remaking a true American classic. The video is very well made and worth a look even if you don't like the song. The theatrical trailer for the film is shown here in 2.0 sound and is a very misleading piece of marketing for the film.

Perhaps the best supplement on the disc is the nearly 14 minute interview feature. I was expecting a short made-for-TV promotional featurette that was more or less an extended trailer, but the segment surprised me. 22 chapter stops are offered by remote or by film-themed, static menus.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

The Next best Thing is a rental movie in the truest sense. It is at least worth your time because of the nice extras and the beautiful transfer. Your mileage may vary, but I thought the film had its moments. It has some major flaws to be sure, but for three bucks, you could do worse.


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