updated 11/15/2013 AT 11:25 AM ET
•originally published 11/15/2013 AT 2:30 PM ET
All the fellas are back in The Best Man Holiday, which, PEOPLE’s critics say, should please the crowds. But the real winner is Bruce Dern in a hidden gem called Nebraska.
Here’s what to see and what to skip at the movies this weekend.
The Best Man Holiday
The Best Man? Why be so singular? This movie is all about the men, plural, from Taye Diggs and Terrence Howard to Morris Chestnut and Harold Perrineau. (And let’s not dismiss the super-strong female cast, from Sanaa Lathan to Nia Long.)
Fans of the 1999 original will be delighted that the entire cast has reunited for a long-anticipated sequel, even if the festivities aren’t quite as cheery this time around. After all, it wouldn’t be a holiday movie if there weren’t a few hardships to overcome and some lessons to be learned, would it?
But that doesn’t keep the laughs at bay – this is still a comedy. When Mia (Monica Calhoun) wants her old college friends to reunite for Christmas weekend for old times’ sake – and for private reasons of her own – they all decide to go. A lot of old squabbles arise in mostly hilarious ways, as they try to navigate their way around each other again. There are also plenty of tender moments, plus a fight scene between Candy (Regina Hall) and Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) that maybe shouldn’t be as fun to watch as it is.
The laughter subsides when the movie takes a serious turn, and the friends have to grasp something that’s bigger than their petty dramas. The takeaway here is that you need your friends for love and support, and to lean on during bad times. The acting during these scenes is excellent, and unless you have a heart of stone you’re bound to get weepy. Luckily, Terrence Howard’s character, Quentin, is there to lighten the mood and keep the film from getting too dramatic. While the filmmakers could have cut 25 minutes and eliminated at least one of the obstacles that needed overcoming, there’s never really a dull moment. You’ll walk away a bundle of emotions – happy, sad and maybe a bit confused over how these actors haven’t aged a day in 15 years. Seriously, they are simply beautiful to look at.
– Gillian Telling
See This, Too:
With its somber black-and-white footage of an addled old man in steep decline, Nebraska does not look like a funny movie. It’s actually hilarious. Start with the premise: Alcoholic retiree Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) believes he’s won a sweepstakes prize worth a cool million. (There are people currently falling for their third Nigerian scam who know better than to think they’ve won a marketing sweepstakes.) Since Woody can’t be talked out of his delusion, his son David (Will Forte) takes it upon himself to drive the old man from Montana to the prize office in Nebraska, where they can break the bad news.
Only this road trip takes a detour to Woody’s creaky hometown, a land frozen not so much in amber, but in dust, neglect and the memories of its aged residents. Woody’s got old scores to settle. Yes, director Alexander Payne will get to some touching father-son stuff, but first there are fistfights, wicked gossip and demented cousins to tend to. The acid really flows when Kate (June Squibb), Woody’s prickly wife, shows up, telling the truth and shaming the devil – and whoever else is in her line of sight.
If you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned much plot, that’s because Nebraska is in no hurry to actually do anything. Instead, the movie prefers to be a showcase for terrific performances and precisely rendered details about strained families and small-town life. It’s a little gem with a lot of chuckles.
– Alynda Wheat
And Flip a Coin on This One:
Now, I love a good Brit-lit adaptation as much as the next person (maybe too much, but no one’s seen fit to hold an intervention yet), but even I couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this dull take on Dickens. It’s not that it’s bad – just uninspired, hitting all the notes in the tale of a boy lifted from poverty to wealth by an anonymous benefactor, but without finding the melody.
The cast is largely blameless, though, with Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger stepping in as Pip and Estella, the star-crossed lovers kept apart by petty, grasping people. That includes Miss Havisham, the witchiest of Helena Bonham Carter’s string of shrieky hag roles, and naturally, she relishes it. Perhaps best of all, though, is Ralph Fiennes as thief Magwitch. If the production were as committed and authentic as he is, these Expectations would be great, indeed.