The Next Best Thing

USA 2000

Reviewed by Kevin Maher


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Los Angeles, the early 90s. Abbie, a yoga teacher, is dumped by her boyfriend Kevin. She complains to her gay best friend Robert, a gardener, that she's getting old and wants a baby. The next day, after attending a funeral, they drunkenly have sex. Abbie soon discovers she's pregnant. She asks Robert, whom she says is the baby's father, to live with her and raise the child. He agrees; Abbie later gives birth to a son, Sam.

Six years later Abbie meets Ben, an investment banker. She brings him home to meet Robert, who is hostile. Ben and Abbie fall in love and plan to get married. Robert worries that this will weaken his relationship with Sam and protests. Ben is offered a job in New York; Abbie decides to leave with him and take Sam. Robert sues Abbie over custody of Sam. She reveals to Robert that her ex-boyfriend Kevin is actually Sam's biological father. Robert tells Kevin. In court Kevin demands time to get to know his son. The judge adjourns the case. Robert, Abbie and Ben accidentally meet each other outside Sam's school. They reconcile their differences. Abbie allows Sam to have dinner with Robert.


Like so many movies starring Madonna, The Next Best Thing fetishises her wearily iconic body. When Abbie, the yoga teacher that she plays in director John Schlesinger's romantic comedy, stands semi-naked in her bedroom, her drooling boyfriend Kevin pays homage to her "fantastic body". Then, soon after, Abbie's best friend Robert (Rupert Everett) tells her, "You are the most beautiful woman I know!" During the many yoga scenes that feature throughout, the camera lingers over Madonna's contorted frame, beguiled by her entwined, self-enfolded limbs. The cumulative effect is that, as in the historical musical Evita, the erotic thriller Body of Evidence and even the baseball movie A League of their Own, Madonna remains resolutely 'Madonna'. As a protean vessel into which the pop-cultural anxieties of the past two decades have been poured, she has an enduring symbolic appeal. But her performance here proves once more that she can't deliver in close-up. Her line readings are flat, seemingly stifled by the weight of being Madonna. Such lines as "Look at me, I'm not 24 anymore!" seem irritably inimical to her.

Admittedly, Madonna isn't helped by Thomas Ropelewski's preposterous screenplay (he directed and co-wrote Look Who's Talking Now). Characters inhabit The Next Best Thing as they would a promotional video for a new-age lifestyle product. Here the limits of being are defined by tan, muscle development and the amount of incense sticks in the bathroom. When Abbie and new boyfriend Ben have a first date, it's no surprise that they discuss finding "muscles in your body that you never knew existed." There's a childish simplicity to the dialogue that often verges on the bizarre. When Ben, the investment banker, describes his job, he proudly declares that he "takes sick companies and makes them well". Even when the script occasionally demands pathos, it is delivered via ineffably hollow lines - Robert remembers a lost love, announcing, "I miss him; he was totally me!" Or later at the platitudinous courtroom climax, he shouts, "Being a real parent takes more than DNA!"

Dramatically, Ropelewski and Schlesinger spend the entire movie constructing a nebulous middle ground where all parties in the custody battle ultimately deserve to parent Abbie's precocious son Sam. Unfortunately this drains the court scenes of any tension. Sam himself is an empty cipher, a perky child golem who automatically adjusts to every traumatic turn in his life. (He has a similar function to the child-as-catalyst character in Big Daddy.)

As in many recent romantic comedies (The Object of My Affection, Three to Tango), The Next Best Thing's depiction of its gay characters is decidedly inane. But here the 'witty gay sidekick' (similar to Everett's role in My Best Friend's Wedding) has a pivotal narrative function, which makes his clichéd characterisation slightly more problematic. When a director of Schlesinger's stature, a film-maker adept at depicting alienation and subculture (Midnight Cowboy, 1969; Day of the Locust, 1974), can produce no better, it becomes unforgivable.


John Schlesinger
Tom Rosenberg
Leslie Dixon
Linne Radmin
Thomas Ropelewski
Director of Photography
Elliot Davis
Peter Honess
Production Design
Howard Cummings
Music/Orchestra Conductor
Gabriel Yared
©Lakeshore Entertainment Corp. and Paramount Pictures
Production Companies
Lakeshore Entertainment and Paramount Pictures present a Lakeshore
Entertainment production
Executive Producers
Gary Lucchesi
Ted Tannebaum
Lewis Manilow
Marcus Viscidi
Richard S. Wright
Associate Producer
Meredith Zamsky
Production Co-ordinator
Michele A. Carmel
Unit Production Managers
Marcus Viscidi
Richard Wright
Location Manager
Boyd Wilson
James McQuaide
Winnie Cheng
Elizabeth Qually
Assistant Directors
Peter Kohn
Scott Robertson
Gary Romolo Fiorelli
Script Supervisor
Barbara E. Tuss
Mali Finn
Emily Schweber
Barbara Harris
Camera Operator
John Nuler
Visual Effects
No Prisoners 3DFX
Special Effects
Class 'A' Special Effects Inc
Graphic Design
Jason Sweers
Art Director
David S. Lazan
Set Designers
Noelle King
Barbara Mesney
Randall Wilkins
Set Decorator
Jan K. Bergstrom
Costume Designer
Ruth Myers
Costume Supervisors
Michelle Kurpaska
Michael J. Long
Supervising Make-up Artist
Mary Burton
Supervising Hair Stylists
Susan Germaine
Howard Anderson Company
Saxophone Solos:
Dave Roach
Harmonica Solos:
Brendan Power
Chris Cawte
Clem Clempson
John Parricelli
Bass Guitar:
Andy Pask
Paul Clarvis
Orchestra Leader:
Rolf Wilson
Gabriel Yared
Stéphane Moucha
Music Supervisors
Happy Walters
Gary Jones
Music Co-ordinator
David Jordan
Music Production
Graham Walker
Liz Schrek
Music Editor
Andrew Dorfman
Synthesizer Programming/Realisation
Kirsty Whalley
Allan Jenkins
John Richards
Music Consultant
Robin Urdang
"Boom Boom Ba" - Metisse; "They Say It's Wonderful" - Ethel Merman, Bruce Yarnell; "Can't Stop" - Stan Watson; "Bongo Bong" - Manu Chao; "The Comrads" - The Comrads; "American Pie" - Don Mclean; "In Flight Music" - Paul French; "Steppin' Out with My Baby" - Fred Astaire; "Don't Make Me Love You ('Till I'm Ready)" - Christina Aguilera; "Swayambhu" - Solar Twins; "Trolley Song" - Judy Garland; "Miracle", "I'm Not in Love" - Olive; "This Life" - Mandalay; "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" - Moby; "If Everybody Looked the Same" - Groove Armada; "A Simple Toon", "At the Fair" - Andrew Dorfman; "Stars All Seem to Weep" - Beth Orton; "Time Stood Still", "American Pie" - Madonna; "Haven't Got Time for the Pain", "My Blue Heaven" , "Jamuna", "Samacand Alap & Gat"
Kim Blank
Sound Mixer
Douglas Axtell
Re-recording Mixers
Dean Humphreys
Terry Rodman
Supervising Sound Editor
Terry Rodman
Dialogue Editors
Mildred Iatrou
Kimberly Lowe Voight
Sound Effects Co-ordinators
Daniel R. Chavez
John Michael Fanaris
Sound Effects Editors
Brian T. Best
Steve Mann
Steve Nelson
Additional Sound Effects
Gary Blufer
ADR Supervisor
Becky Sullivan
Bob Beher
Joan Rowe
Sean Rowe
Eric Thompson
Yoga Consultants
Kimberly Flynn
Noah Williams
Medical Adviser
Bobbin Bergstrom
Rupert Everett
Benjamin Bratt
Michael Vartan
Josef Sommer
Richard Whittaker
Malcolm Stumpf
Lynn Redgrave
Helen Whittaker
Neil Patrick Harris
Mark Valley
Suzanne Krull
John Carroll Lynch
Abbie's lawyer
Fran Bennett
Illeana Douglas
Elizabeth Ryder
Stacy Edwards
Ricki Lopez
Ramiro Fabian
Tiffany Paulsen
young mother
Joan Axelrod
Bel Air matron
George Axelrod
Bel Air man
Jack Betts
William Mesnik
Irene Roseen
Gavin Lambert
'Gangsta' Terrell Anderson
'Kmac' Kelly Garmon
'Browski' James Reese
'Dutch' Amoa Chester
Thomas Bankowski
Glenn Sakazian
Terrance Sweeney
priest at funeral
Anna Garduno
coffee shop waitress
Frank James
dad at airport
Linda Larkin
Tom Burke
Tom, Annabel's husband
Benjamin Koldyke
Kelly's boyfriend
Marie Chambers
Lee Lucas
Glenn Tannous
party guests
Caitlin Wachs
Maxx Tepper
Jessica Sara
kid 3
Katelin Petersen
kid 4
Holly Houston
Yoga student
Kimberly Davies
Alvin H. Einbender
male diner
Laurent Schwaar
resturant manager
Patrick Price
maitre d'
Michael Arnon
Jay Karnes
Kevin's lawyer
Buena Vista International (UK)
9,707 feet
107 minutes 52 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011