Writer and director Malcolm D. Lee’s latest film doesn’t enjoy the Oscar buzz that accompanied several other hard-hitting African American movies this year, nor should it.
While the big screen premieres of, “12 Years a Slave,” “Fruitvale Station,” and “The Butler,” have helped to make 2013 one of the most memorable for black filmmakers, Lee’s, “The Best Man Holiday,” attempts to lighten the mood with romance and adult-themed comedy.
“We had to convince the studio to make this movie. There was no green light,” said actress Nia Long, who portrays the character, Jordan, in the film which opens nationwide on Friday, November 15, 2013.
The sequel arrives 14 years after the original 1999 comedy, “The Best Man,” and reunites a cast that includes Long, Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard and Taye Diggs.
“Usually, it’s the studio who has to convince the cast to do a film, but Malcolm Lee had a very unique way of approaching this,” said Long, 43, who has appeared in such successful television shows as, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Big Shots,” and “The Cleveland Show.” Long also has found success on the silver screen, portraying the leading lady in Martin Lawrence’s, “Big Momma’s House,” in 2000, and its sequel, “Big Momma’s House 2,” in 2006.
“Malcolm came to us and we became a part of championing the process, which was completely different from anything we’d ever done before,” she said.
The two-hour film from Universal Studios puts college friends together again over the Christmas holidays. As the group reunites, they quickly discover just how easy it can be to recall forgotten rivalries and rekindle old flames.
The story centers around a football player, Lance, portrayed by Chestnut, who is on the verge of breaking the all-time football record for rushing while his former best man, Harper, played by Taye Diggs, has fallen on hard times. Harper, a writer, sulks as his novels fail to sell and he is struggling to start a family with his wife, Robin, portrayed by Lathan.
“It was great to get back together with everyone, all of those personalities in one room and in one city,” said Chestnut who first found fame as the college-bound Ricky Baker in the critically acclaimed big screen drama, “Boyz in the Hood,” in 1991. “There’s just so much going on in the film, it’s great.”
Lathan, 42, who easily counts as one of the best actresses in Hollywood, said the cast and crew rejoiced over the prospects of a reunion.
“It was like we were at an adult camp when we went to work,” said Lathan, whose resume includes, “Love and Basketball,” the hit movie from 2000 that co-starred Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard, and Debbi Morgan.
Lathan, the daughter of producer Stan Lathan, also appeared opposite Denzel Washington in the 2003 crime thriller, “Out of Time,” where she seduces a married, but separated, Florida police chief who finds himself caught between trying to solve a brutal double murder before he comes under suspicion, while attempting to help a beautiful con artist, played by Lathan.
Lathan said filming the movie turned out to be a blast. “We should have had a behind-the-scenes camera because we were having so much fun.”
Lee, 43, a Georgetown University graduate and cousin of noted filmmaker, Spike Lee, assembled the cast for a dinner date more than two years ago.
“It took a few years for the film to get picked up despite the success we had before,” said Lee, who held private rehearsals just for the men in the film so that they could practice a synchronized dance sequence and surprise the women. “I just wanted to see the natural, raw responses to the dance scene on the faces of the ladies, so we didn’t let them see that part until we filmed the movie.”
The move proved to be a hit, Chestnut said. “That was actually one of the most fun things about doing the whole movie, I think.”
It also met the approval of the women. “They really practiced,” Long said. “They were serious about it.”