With the exception of Evita, Madonna's screen career has yet to match her success as a recording artist. That state of affairs is unlikely to be changed by The Next Best Thing, a comedy drama in the Kramer Vs Kramer mould which finds the Material Girl, her British chum and Julia Roberts' current squeeze comprising an unlikely ménage à trois.
From the off, John Schlesinger's weepie blurs the border between fact and fiction. Madonna, preggers for the second time in real life, plays an unmarried woman who gets knocked up; Rupert Everett, a gay pal of Mad's, is cannily cast as a gay pal of Mad's. Even Abbie's job seems tailored to fit the star's off-screen persona. (The part was written as a swimming teacher, but Madonna demanded a rewrite lest her locks be brutalised by chlorine.)
Ol' Maddy has played herself before, and was rather good at it too. Larger-than-life vivacity also comes naturally to her (her Eva Peron performance is a good example). But ask her to play a flesh-and-blood human and she's all at sea. How would she know how an ordinary person behaves? No wonder we're unmoved by the latter stages, in which the pair come into conflict about their son's future. It doesn't ring true for a second.
Everett has a different problem. Comedy is his forte, not drama, as My Best Friend's Wedding proved, so it's hardly surprising that he breezes through the first half with his usual blend of charm and camp. When Thomas Ropelewski's script takes a turn into courtroom melodrama, however, Everett goes down with all hands. Anger comes across as petulance, heartbreak as indigestion. An ironing board could have done a better job.
Madonna and Rupert Everett make a great double act. But not as these characters, and not in this film.
A decent supporting cast, handsome production values and a hot-button topic are let down by two miscast stars who can't convince as friends, adversaries or parents. Was this really helmed by the guy behind Midnight Cowboy and Billy Liar?