A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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."
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?
- In theaters: April 14, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: August 29, 2000
- Cast: Rupert Everett, Madonna, Benjamin Bratt, Malcolm Stumpf, Neil Patrick Harris
- Director: John Schlesinger
- Studio: Paramount Home Media Distribution
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: for mature thematic elements, sexual content, partial nudity and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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