The Next Best Thing

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
The Next Best Thing Movie Poster Image
Drama about untraditional parenting has sex, mature themes.
  • PG-13
  • 2000
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Even angry people will eventually make good decisions about child care and custody if they truly care about the child's welfare. A man makes a mock racist comment, referring to a "chocolate-covered peanut gallery."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gay stereotyping is turned on its head when Robert dresses up as a midriff-baring effeminate person to make people think that the hetero male who dumped Abby is gay. This both sends up heterosexual fear of homosexuality at the same time it exploits it. Abby and Robert's friendship is deep and mostly unselfish, although they both display jealousy. Robert's mother accepts him as he is, and his father, at first disapproving, comes around to supporting him. Robert and Abby are loving parents, but when threatened both make bad decisions, attack each other in court, and otherwise foul their friendship with respect to child custody, until they sort things out.

Violence

A woman takes her 6-year-old son away from the man who has acted as his father since birth.

Sex

Robert and Abby get drunk and have sex (only kissing is shown). Adults kiss. Gay sex is discussed. Tops of a woman's breasts and her thonged buttocks are seen. A women is seen in a sheer bra. A man is shirtless.

Language

"S--t," "hell," "a--hole," "faggot," "bimbo," "sperm," "screw," "bitch," "punk," "queens" (referring to effeminate gay men), "booger."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol, sometimes to excess. Both Abby and Robert drink too many martinis, leading them to have sex for the first and only time. The diet drug fen-phen is mentioned. During childbirth pain, a woman screams, "Give me every drug you've got!" A reference is made to a man serving time for drug possession.

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Next Best Thing is a 2000 drama that asks how we as a society define "family" in an age when the once completely shunned LGBTQ community is gaining rights and acceptance. A straight woman in her 40s wants a child. Dumped by a cad and grieving for a friend lost to AIDS, she and her gay best friend have drunken sex (not shown). He commits to being a full-time father when she gives birth to a son, and all is well until she falls in love six years later, at which time lawyers get involved. Adults smoke and drink. AIDS and gay sex are discussed. Expect to hear "a--hole," "hell," "faggot," "s--t," and "bitch."

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What's the story?

THE NEXT BEST THING establishes the close friendship between straight Abby (Madonna) and gay Robert (Rupert Everett). They mourn a friend lost to AIDS together. They commiserate when she's dumped by a cad. In drunken grief, they have sex (not shown) for the first and only time. When a son is born, Robert moves in with Abby and commits to being a full-time father. Life is good until Abby falls in love with a guy who wants to marry her and move her and the 6-year-old child away from Robert. As Robert and Abby never married, Robert is left with few legal options when Abby sues for full custody and the right to take the child out of California.

Is it any good?

This watchable, intelligently constructed film wrestles with modern issues. Those include tolerance, prejudice, feminism, nontraditional families, love, and the failure of the legal system to catch up with the conflicts these matter raise. The movie doesn't say so, but it should be noted that, under the movie's specific plot constraints, Robert would have been at a disadvantage legally even if the character had been straight. Everett's performance is absorbing and beautifully nuanced. The writing realistically reflects the pain of being a single woman of a certain age and of being gay in a largely intolerant culture. Their woes are not equivalent, but the movie makes the point that society, the legal system, and prevailing religions prefer their adults straight and coupled, making it tough for those who fall outside the norm. Although the movie may not interest many teens, those who do watch will find lots to analyze and discuss.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the movie pictures gay people. Do you think it's trying to portray them as very different from straight people, or does it seem to emphasize similarities between the gay and straight communities?

  • What questions does the movie pose about parental rights? Do you think the movie takes sides about the difference between caring for a child and being the child's biological parent?

  • What is the movie's position on prejudice? Is it a bad thing to judge people based on appearance or our preconceived notions about them?

  • What makes a family? What makes a good parent? What does this film contribute to that discussion?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas and comedies

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