1 min

Next to nothing

Drive this Chevy to the levy & let it die

STRAIGHTEN UP. Rupert Everett needs better material. Credit: Xtra files

Let me try describing The Next Best Thing, the comedy drama with Rupert Everett and Madonna playing best friends raising a child together, by what it is not.

It’s not an obsequiously straight depiction of a gay man/straight women friendship; it’s not The Son Of The Object Of My Affection.

But neither is The Next Best Thing buoyed by Everett’s world-weary gay wit, as in My Best Friend’s Wedding.

The Next Best Thing is not a good movie.

Supposedly harking back to the bygone era of US romantic comedies of the 1940s, The Next Best Thing presents a thoroughly modern couple: Roger (Everett), a gay landscape architect and Abbie (Madonna) a perennially single yoga instructor. They love each other but know too much about each other’s weaknesses and foibles…

…and they have child together. (“Is that gay?” you ask. Well, it is Madonna.)

Everett has commented repeatedly in the press about his struggle to change the script by Tom Ropelewski (who wrote and directed Look Who’s Talking Now). After pitching Ropelewski’s story to Madonna, Everett says that he and his writing partner Mel Bordeaux worked mainly at moving the characters beyond simplistic flamer and fag-hag stereotypes.

“So all those changes were very, very difficult to make because the studio, they had their idea how things should be and I had my idea,” Everett says.

After going to arbitration, Everett and Bordeaux were denied writing credit. Lucky for them. The script is plain awful.

The Next Best Thing is fatally wounded by a schizophrenic story and ham-fisted dialogue. “You’re not just a mother,” Robert says to Abbie, at one point, “you’re a woman.” A gay Philadelphia Story it ain’t.

Everett does have some funny bits, but the meager comedy gets swallowed up by a mawkish and implausible custody battle in the last third of the film. The court-room histrionics will make you squirm.

As performers, Everett and Madonna do their best with bad material. Their performances are fine and they convey some tangible synergy.

But one wonders what’s going on with John Schlesinger, the Academy Award-winning director of Midnight Cowboy and Far From The Madding Crowd. The Next Best Thing caps a slump of bad films that started more than 10 years ago with Madame Sousatzka.

The Next Best Thing is now playing (and maybe some teenaged girls are watching it).