We’ve all been to a wedding where one of the guests gets a little too hammered for their own good, lighting up the dance floor with sloppy movements and encouraging dangerous amounts of shot-ripping – but what if he/she didn’t survive the night? The “Best Man” has a ton of duties in a wedding party, but staying alive typically isn’t a concern.
Ted Koland’s Best Man Down introduces this nightmare scenario, tying together new beginnings and untimely ends in a way that’s both comical and emotionally revealing. There’s sometimes a difference between being someone’s “Best Man” and oldest friend, and Koland explores a friendship that is strong, but hasn’t been revisited for a brief period of time. Life can change in a heartbeat, even at the happiest of occasions.
Scott (Justin Long) and Kristin (Jess Weixler) have waited their whole lives for a happy wedding ceremony, choosing the destination route in Arizona. Among their friends and family is Scott’s Best Man “Lumpy” (Tyler Labine), who proves to be taking full advantage of the open bar. Guzzling libations and stumbling about the wedding ceremony, Scott is eventually forced to cut his best friend off and send him to bed. It’s here where Lumpy continues his buffoonery, but after injuring himself and ending up locked out of the hotel, he starts stumbling around the desert landscape, and drops dead. Awaking to the horrible news, Scott is forced to cancel his extravagant honeymoon to ensure Lumpy gets a proper funeral, dragging his new wife back to Minneapolis instead of a sunny beach – a choice that turns into a period of discovery and reflection for all parties involved.
Ted Koland does so much right to ensure Lumpy’s death never loses importance, and that’s why Best Man Down works so well. While the title may sound like some silly friendship comedy, Koland’s script does much more than just send Scott and Kristin on some wild goose chase while delving into Lumpy’s past, instead revealing strong themes surrounding mortality, true friendship, and happiness. Our perception of Lumpy changes dramatically as his drunken foolishness is explained and a much more somber situation is revealed, as we learn to love Lumpy in death.
It’s Labine and Long who make Lumpy’s life so meaningful, both on different levels. Labine obviously portrays Lumpy’s drunken wedding night antics, establishing the bad, but then through the magic of flashbacks, it’s Labine who wins us over with charming sweetness. Easily assuming Lumpy’s untimely end was brought about by partying too hard, falling victim to some type of drugs, or any other life ruining devices, Labine’s ongoing establishment of a loving, caring Lumpy reverses the intoxicated spell originally put on our doomed character.
Long, on the other hand, has to show the impact Lumpy’s death has on his supposed best friend, even though Scott quickly begins to realize he’s not exactly sure who his Best Man turned into. More importantly, Scott begins to realize that life could end at any moment, and starts to make quickfire decisions, backing his reasoning with comments like, “That’s what Lumpy would have done.” Scott’s struggles with his new marriage, Lumpy’s death, and crumby job all culminate in a romantically touching gesture honoring Best Man Down‘s most critical character.
It’s Lumpy’s relationship with a girl named Ramsey (Addison Timlin) that completes the proper tonal confusion though, as the young girl presents another bit of plot trickery that ultimately adds another dimension to Lumpy. Being that Labine dies in the opening moments of Best Man Down, we rely on all the other characters to personify Lumpy, and Timlin’s ambiguous role becomes the most important piece to this puzzle.
Best Man Down succeeds in balancing emotional drama and lighthearted comedy, considering the borderline morbid topic, but does so in a way that’s respectful, positively focused, and rewarding. Such a triumph is in large part thanks to our leading men, Justin Long and Tyler Labine, but those characters wouldn’t have been possible without proper guidance and scripting from first time director Ted Koland, who avoids the pitfalls of creating a story about death that’s either distractingly comical or depressingly dark. For lack of a better term – it’s a beautiful, tonal marriage.