Best Male Down (2012)
Directed by: Ted Koland | 89 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Justin Long, Jess Weixler, Tyler Labine, Addison Timlin, Shelley Long, Frances O’Connor, Evan Jones, Michael Landes, Peter Syvertsen, James Detmar, Jane Hammill, Claudia Wilkens, Sasha Andreev
Tyler Labine once wanted to be the principal of his old high school. Or at least a teacher. But fate decreed otherwise. After countless ‘intermediate jobs’, including pizza delivery, the Canadian discovered his love for writing and acting. The fact that he does not have a divine body, does not have a razor-sharp jawline and does not even remotely resemble the ultimate leading men Brad Pitt and George Clooney, turned out to be less of an obstacle than previously thought. Because, as Labine herself says: “I think a new film character has emerged: it is a sidekick-slash-leading man role. Men like Zach Galifianakis and Seth Rogen have had great success in similar roles. You no longer have to have the perfectly sculpted face, the toned and muscular body and the matching dark brown voice; you can now also be funny and ordinary and still belong to the leading men.” And this is how Labine has been working for several years, as a voice actor (for example in ‘Monsters University’ from 2013) but also in feature films such as ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ (2010), ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ (2011) and ‘The Boss’ (2016).
‘Best Man Down’, which dates from 2012, is all about Labine’s character Lumpy. However, he dies quite early in the film. Witnessing the wedding of his best friend Scott (Justin Long) and Kristen (Jess Weixler), he has the evening of his life, indulging in alcohol. His exuberance is not appreciated by everyone, however, and Scott, wanting to do his new wife a favor, subtly but subtly sends him to his hotel room (the wedding took place in Arizona, while the newlyweds and their guests come from cold Minnesota). There Lumpy celebrates his party even further, dancing and playing air guitar on the bed. Until he falls off and sustains a head injury. Bleeding like a ox, he flees out into the desert, where he falls over against a cactus and dies. Kristen is bummed, having looked forward to the honeymoon (“in a caftan and cocktail in hand enjoying the sun in the sun”), but Scott feels obliged to return his friend’s lifeless body to Minnesota and to arrange his funeral. Especially since it was Lumpy of all people who paid for the honeymoon for the newlyweds.
Why Lumpy’s mother, who only appears for the first time at the funeral, is not informed about her son’s death before is one of the many improbabilities in the screenplay by Ted Koland, who also directed the film. Because instead of going straight to the family to grieve together, Scott and Kristen go through the handful of phone numbers in Lumpy’s cell phone. Scott turns out to be very little aware of the ups and downs of his best friend. Little did he know that Lumpy had been fired months ago, and that he was good friends with a fifteen-year-old girl named Ramsey Anderson (Addison Timlin). She also turns out to be the one who knew Lumpy best. The girl is in serious trouble at home, with an addicted mother (Frances O’Connor), who has a tyrannical friend (Evan Jones, classic bad guy-tronie) who enlists her to suppress the ingredients for his homemade crystal meth. Ramsey doesn’t immediately show the back of her tongue, so for a long time Scott and Kristen are guessing exactly what her relationship with Lumpy entailed.
‘Best Man Down’ is presented as a comedy drama, but the number of funny moments can be counted on one hand. The tragedy surrounding the characters Lumpy and Ramsey (and to a lesser extent Ramsey’s mother) is much more fleshed out than the lightly comical wrangling between newlyweds Scott and Kristen, which goes no further than the fact that he keeps his layoff and money problems from her and she tries to control her neuroses with all kinds of painkillers. Kristen, incidentally, has her neuroses from her mother Gail (Shelley Long), who has the irritating gift of making exactly the wrong comment every time. It seems that in ‘Best Man Down’ Koland wanted to merge two different films: on the one hand, an unfunny comedy about a bickering newlywed couple with one-dimensional and clichéd characters like Scott, Kristen and Gail, and on the other a much more intimate and layered portrait of the special and unexpected friendship of Lumpy and Ramsey. Especially when the young Addison Timlin appears on the screen, the film comes alive; the teenager she portrays is believable and likeable. There’s something disarming about her friendship with Lumpy; all the more tragic for her that he is now gone. Tyler Labine is also charming; that drunk from the first minutes turns out to have a heart of gold.
It’s a shame that writer/director Koland has made certain choices, because ‘Best Man Down’ has quite a bit of potential somewhere. If he had only focused on Lumpy and Ramsey, it would have saved a lot of irritation! Now we’re stuck with bland scenes populated with mediocre actors like Justin Long and Shelley Long (no relation!), annoyingly interrupting a blossoming friendship. The comic part of the film is of a questionable level, the dramatic storylines bring the film up again. Our final verdict is therefore logically in the middle.