It's Not What It Looks Like...

Best Man Down - 2012
Written & Directed by Ted Koland

Best Man Down is not what it appears to be, and that's both its blessing and its curse.

It was evidently promoted (a misleading term in its own right) as a comedy, which it absolutely is not.  You would further believe it to be a comedy from the presence of Justin Long (Waiting..., Dodgeball, Zack & Miri Make a Porno) and Tyler Labine (Reaper, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil), but you would believe incorrectly.

While the film benefits from this misdirection in setting up certain expectations from Labine's character, Lumpy, and then allowing the characters and the viewers to learn from this mistake, not all viewers like to be challenged, and tend to blame filmmakers rather than accept that they may have been wrong.  For example, the correspondent reviewer on prefers to blame the film for all the things it's not rather than updating their expectations once the film demonstrates that it's something else -- which is a damned shame, because that was one of Ebert's greatest gifts as a reviewer.

Lumpy (Labine) is the best man at Scott and Kristin's wedding (Long and Jess Weixler, respectively), despite the fact that Scott and Lumpy have drifted out of each other's lives as adulthood has gotten more adult.  Naturally the one getting married is eyeball deep in discussions of responsibility and the burden of expectations.  The opening sets Lumpy up as your basic "big fat party guy."  He gets way too drunk and embarrasses himself not so much as the couple; specifically the overly-anxious bride who accepts/invents a large part of those burdensome expectations. 

Up until now, you could continue to be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a comedy.  Then Lumpy dies, in fairly dark fashion.  If it had been a comedy, there would be a dozen different ways to play this scene, but writer and first-time director Ted Koland chooses none of them and I believe that's purposeful.  It should be uncomfortable when the best man dies at the wedding, and it should leave an emotional taint on the memory.

Scott feels responsible for taking care of Lumpy's arrangements, and it's only much later that we learn that Lumpy had any family at all.  While the question could be raised as to why the family didn't take care of things, there would appear to be clues to explain Scott's willingness to take it on himself.  It was Scott that cut Lumpy off at the bar and sent him off to bed, and he feels guilty about that; rational or not.  This is compounded by the sense of guilt for growing apart and "succeeding" in the adult sense while Lumpy seemed to backslide, despite the fact that he borrowed money from Lumpy, which creates an even deeper sense of guilt.

So Scott and Kristin postpone their honeymoon to take care of the funeral, and to track down one of the few names in Lumpy's cell phone.  In doing so, they discover that Lumpy was not exactly who they thought he was, although they're not always sure they want to find out what there is to know.  Again, the appearance of things can be misleading, and one's own expectations can color their vision in ways that says more about the expectations than the individual.

The perverse burden of expectations is examined further through the characters of Scott & Kristin's relatives.  They're surrounded with self-centered demands and myopic notions of right and wrong, and while they accept and endure these expectations, they make themselves crazy and expect the worst of others.  Scott is so on-edge that he got himself fired from his grown-up job, unbeknownst to Kristin who has a nice little anti-anxiety med dependency going just to cope. 

They initially expect that the name "Ramsey" in Lumpy's phone refers to a classmate from law school... then learn that he had quit school the previous year.  Then they think it might be a girlfriend... and discover that it's a 15 year old girl from a small town.  This does not reassure them.

Meanwhile, throughout the film, we've been getting glimpses of Ramsey (Addison Timlin) and her life.  Her mom is a flake, because of/resulting in her relationship with her dirtbag meth-head boyfriend.  The boyfriend, having so little "self" upon which to base his impression of himself, attempts to mimic his idea of what a "Man" should be by dominating the women in his life, and dragging the clearly-2-to-3-times-his-IQ Ramsey down to his loser level by bullying her into shoplifting cold medicine for meth.  The film sidesteps darker implications, or leaves it up to the audience to fill in.  Those familiar with the realities of rural and small-town America may tend to color-in these pages with darker crayons than others.

We're also treated to a flashback that explains how Lumpy and Ramsey happened to meet, but this too leaves us uncertain about the nature of their relationship.  Like the characters, and much of the rest of the film, I think it depends on what expectations the individual viewer brings to the proceedings that determines how they will interpret this before the "big reveal" at the funeral.  It's not necessarily the most effectively managed mystery, but it makes for a good story as Scott and Kristin find their expectations challenged, and their eyes opened.

Going into the movie, I had few expectations, and most of those were wrong.  Once it began to reveal itself, I found elements that I strongly related to, and those played a large part for me in my ability to understand and connect to characters and events.  As a result, I ended up being deeply affected by the story, the narrative of discovery, and the characters of Lumpy and Ramsey in particular.  Your mileage may vary, but I think it will get you there, if you let it.  I was also able to allow the film to show me what it was, rather than remaining stuck in any preconceived notion of my own, and that, after all, was the complete and absolute point of Best Man Down.

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