Editor’s Notes: Best Man Down is now open is limited release.
From its in media res opening, framing an emotionally isolated character against the immense expanse of a snow-covered landscape, Best Man Down bears all the hallmarks of the American indie with nary a pinch of self-awareness. Though that shouldn’t be taken as indicative of its issues; if there’s a failing here, it’s earnestness: this is a movie of commendable conviction, so set on its goal and determined to get there it almost seems not to notice the terrain it treads through en route. Strangely, it’s all the stronger for it; employing its indie trappings without ever indulging in them, this is a film that finds effect despite itself, that accidentally uncovers the needle of emotional impact amidst the haystack of filmmaking familiarity.
Though that shouldn’t be taken as indicative of its issues; if there’s a failing here, it’s earnestness: this is a movie of commendable conviction, so set on its goal and determined to get there it almost seems not to notice the terrain it treads through en route.
If that’s a metaphor that seems stretched and strained, it’s fitting indeed for Best Man Down, whose stereotypical snowy opening shot sets the scene for a film that’s quite content to forego subtlety at almost every turn. A handful of TV writing gigs to his name, Ted Koland is an evidently inexperienced scribe, though it’s less this that shines through his characters than his firm grasp on the frustrations of grief. It’s the driving force of his film as it follows newlyweds whose honeymoon is cancelled by the sudden death of the best man the morning after the wedding. Playing on the paradisiacal post-marital dynamic we—and indeed they—expect, Koland is able to give us an often impressively bitter appreciation of the difficulties of separating love and death.
As Woody Allen showed us in 1975, those are the greatest of tragicomic themes, the universal aspects of human existence that tie us all together. Koland, alas, hasn’t such success in tethering his tones; not least of all in the opening act, the film’s uneasily imbalanced between silliness and sadness, striving for a sense of genuine loss as it struggles to take itself seriously enough. There’s a disheartening discord between the awkward antics of walking in on a masturbating manager and the more macabre moments of inter-spousal screaming that seems poised to pull the film apart as it opens. It doesn’t, eventually, as Koland comes into his own; that road movie trope of a journey of self-discovery is almost as in-effect for him as it is for his characters.
Justin Long and Jess Weixler bear the brunt as the less-than-happy couple, each as individually impressive—important, given their arcs—as they are together.
But none of it would ever work without his cast, whose mutual prowess is what keeps Best Man Down afloat long enough to arrive at the point where it belatedly picks up. Justin Long and Jess Weixler bear the brunt as the less-than-happy couple, each as individually impressive—important, given their arcs—as they are together. Fleshed-out via flashback, Tyler Levine does well to slowly reveal the depths of the deceased, ably inverting the annoyance we feel in spades at first meeting. But it’s Addison Timlin who excels above all as a troubled young girl who might be the only person to ever really know him. Saddled as she is with the film’s foremost example of familiar indie elements, there’s a visceral veracity to her performance: the whisper of her voice; the depth of her eyes; her constant residence right on the verge of tears.
It’s not to downplay the work of the rest of the cast and crew to say that it’s Timlin who makes the film: it’s she who smashes through stereotype to establish emotion; it’s she who leads the movies unexpectedly impactful final act; it’s she, above all, who manages more than any other to lend a sense of gravitas to the loss on which the entire story is forged. That Koland has the sense to step back and allow her to overpower the film she does is indicative of a director who appreciates having something special on his hands. Best Man Down isn’t, in the end, but it’s touched enough by what is to emerge ever more effective than it has any right to be.
[notification type=”star”]64/100 ~ OKAY. Best Man Down emerges ever more effective than it has any right to be.[/notification]