It’s not uncommon, of course, for a film to deal with old friends who have fallen out with each other and must learn to get along. Nor is it out of the ordinary to see stories of marriages on the rocks, families with financial struggles, and secrets waiting to come to light. To do all of this, though, and deal with faith, to boot? What would be a recipe for disaster in the hands of most so-called Christian film companies is a runaway success in “The Best Man Holiday.”
Lance Sullivan (played by Morris Chestnut) is a big-time NFL star whose wife Mia (spoiler alert!) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) is a broke author in need of the funds he could get by writing a bio of Sullivan, his famous former best friend. Hijinks ensue during the holiday get-together of their whole group of friends at the Sullivan family home, but behind the jokes and the unspoken grief runs a thread of faith as well-portrayed and honestly difficult as any I’ve seen in a movie. Sullivan, at first convinced that “we will bear witness to a miracle” and his wife will be healed, is confronted with a reality that requires more than platitudes. Stewart, afraid of trusting anyone other than himself, has to ask questions about whether self-reliance is the best way to live. The movie avoids easy conclusions and the heavy-handed moralism of most faith-based films, and addresses life’s challenges with humor and kindness.
There is a scene toward the end of the movie in which two little girls are singing “O Holy Night,” while the rest of the group watches from the couches. Mia (played by the stunning Monica Calhoun) has removed her wig, signaling the end of her hiding from the truth of her imminent demise. She stands during the song and sings with the girls, eyes closed, hands outstretched, in a moment of pure worship and communion with God that is almost unbearably intimate to look in on. Can you think of any other recent film that has dealt so honestly with the pain that often drives us to faith?
Films about faith should not be so precious that they can’t deal with real life, nor so disparaging that they can’t see the seriousness with which people pray. I only hope they’re all as good as this one.