Directed by: Ted Koland
Premise: After their best man dies the night of their wedding, a newlywed couple (Justin Long and Jess Weixler) spend their honeymoon making funeral arrangements and tracking down the family and friends of the deceased.
What Works: Although Best Man Down focuses on a newlywed couple played by Justin Long and Jess Weixler, the best parts of this film are not about them but about a teenage girl, played by Addison Timlin, and her troubled home life. Following the death of Lumpy, the best man played by Tyler Labine, the couple attempts to notify his friends and family. In the process they find that Lumpy’s life was quite different than they had understood and the couple discovers the contact information of a teenage girl whose relationship with the middle-aged Lumpy is a mystery. The teenager, played by Addison Timlin, lives in a small town in rural Minnesota with her drug-abusing mother and step-father and the film alternates between the present and the past, explaining how she got to know Lumpy and how she copes with her present situation. Addison Timlin’s performance is easily the best element of this film and she is credible as a teenage girl; the actress and the filmmakers grant the character an effective mix of intelligence and vulnerability. The filmmakers also show a generally good sense of how much information to provide and keep the nature of their relationship appropriately ambiguous for most of the story. The narrative has a fairly complex structure, flashing backwards and forwards in time and between the couple and the teenage girl. The structure works and it livens up the movie while gradually bringing the players and storylines together. Best Man Down also has an authentic sense of place. The picture primarily takes place in the Midwest and unlike movies such as Fargo and New in Town the filmmakers capture the idiosyncrasies of Midwestern culture without falling into contempt for their characters.
What Doesn’t: Best Man Down is an example of a movie with a compelling concept that is rendered underwhelming because of a miscalculated execution. Weddings are powerful events in part because they symbolize love, life, and hope for the future. Staging a death at a wedding takes that idealism and crashes it into the harshness of reality. That is set up effectively in the opening of the picture and what follows is clearly supposed to be the story of a couple struggling through the first week of their marriage. This is evidenced by the subplots and conflicts, as the couple frets over money and family. The problem with Best Man Down is twofold: the obstacles and conflicts are never steep enough and the central relationship just isn’t that interesting. Whenever the filmmakers introduce conflicts between the couple they rarely follow through on them and the stakes are never raised. Every clash in the couple’s story is resolved too easily or it isn’t resolved at all. Justin Long and Jess Weixler are fine actors but the story does not give them enough to do. They are very bland characters and the story is flat. The other story problem of Best Man Down is that the title character remains a mystery. By the end of the film, Lumpy’s relationship with his teenage friend is settled but as a character he still remains vague and most of what the viewer comes to know about him isn’t dramatized in the flashbacks but told to us in the big speech in the finale. Best Man Down is also flawed in its basic filmmaking craft. The picture was clearly made on a low budget and that becomes apparent in the technical qualities of the production. The sound is sometimes muddled and some of the editing is poor with shots cut together with very sloppy continuity.
Bottom Line: Best Man Down may be worth seeing simply for the performance of Addison Timlin and hopefully this film is seen widely enough to enhance her career. Other than that the movie is not very memorable and its is frequently mediocre.
Episode: #468 (December 8, 2013)