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Review: Madonna plays Madonna in 'Next Best Thing'
(CNN) -- Madonna and Rupert Everett star in "The Next Best Thing," a lighthearted comedy that metamorphoses into something heavier midway through the film. Happy or sad, the movie doesn't require either to do much creative muscle stretching.
In real life, Everett is a gay man whose best friend is Madonna. In the film, he plays a gay man, Robert, whose best friend is Abbie ... yes, played by Madonna.
There's more. Abbie, like Madonna, practices yoga, dresses funky, raises a child out of wedlock and enjoys close friends who are gay. The only thing Abbie lacks is a girlfriend named Rosie who has a national talk show.
That said, "The Next Best Thing" is a pleasant and occasionally amusing little film that challenges conventional concepts of what makes up a family unit. This particular family traverses some unusual twists and turns.
Abbie and Robert are wildly attractive people, but, inexplicably, neither has been lucky in love. This is especially worrisome for Abbie, whose biological clock is ticking madly. Friend Robert suggests that she either go to a sperm bank or adopt.
But Abbie says no; she wants a baby the old-fashioned way -- and gets it, too.
After the death of a close friend, the two drown their sorrows during a drunken weekend. They bond over numerous drinks, get sloshed, get in bed and get up the next morning, embarrassed and regretful about an impulsive act that threatens their friendship.
You can guess what's next. Not long afterward, Abbie turns up pregnant and offers Robert a choice: either be the child's father in every way -- excluding marriage to Abbie -- or just be the kid's loving "uncle." Robert chooses fatherhood and moves in with Abbie (separate bedrooms, of course).
Flash forward six years, and the two best friends are now loving parents celebrating the birthday of their son, Sam (played by first-time actor Malcolm Stumpf) at a festive backyard party. Norman Rockwell could not have given the scene a better glow.
Robert still dates men occasionally, but his main focus is being Sam's dad. Abbie rarely ventures out with the opposite sex. Something clearly is missing in their lives.
Enter Ben, played by the handsome Benjamin Bratt. He promptly bowls Abbie over and they decide to marry -- a move requiring her to move cross country to New York, where Bratt works. It also means Sam will be going with them, and Robert is outraged. Suddenly a light film turns dark, and you're watching an off-kilter "Kramer Vs. Kramer."
Madonna can barely dance and sings only in a limited range, but no matter: Through sheer will power, she's turned herself into a mega-recording star, beloved by many. Her acting talents have been less well received.
Again, no matter: Thomas Ropelewski's script basically requires her to play herself, and she does it very well. Everett, who is a good actor, essentially plays the same glib gay guy he portrayed in "My Best Friend's Wedding," (1997) this time with Madonna replacing Julia Roberts in the other lead role.
Moreover, just as in "Wedding," everyone bursts into song out nowhere, in a scene that comes out of nowhere. The tune is Don McLean's "American Pie" instead of Dionne Warwick's "Say A Little Prayer." But you get the picture.
The comic moments in "The Next Best Thing" work better then the dramatic ones, but director John Schlesinger -- who brought us "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in 1971 and "Midnight Cowboy" in 1969, for which he won a best director Oscar -- won't need to clear away any mantle space for this one. "The Next Best Thing" is a pleasing but mindless diversion that goes down well with buttered popcorn and a large Coke.
Madonna's fans won't be embarrassed this time over their idol's venture onto the silver screen, and gay men once again can point to an openly gay actor whose career didn't self destruct when his closet door flew open.
"The Next Best Thing" opens nationwide on March 3 and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 107 minutes.
Justify my tribute: Madonna honored with 'Virgin Voices'
Official 'The Next Best Thing' site
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