To begin, Justin Long (Scott) and Tyler Labine (Lumpy) show off dramatic acting skill. Both men channel emotion and vitalize their characters, especially Labine, who steals every scene in which he appears.
Addison Timlin (Ramsey), Jess Weixler (Kristin) and Frances O’Connor (Jaime) are almost Long and Labine’s equals.
As importantly, Ramsey, Kristin, Jaime, Scott and Lumpy are well developed, complex characters. They mightn’t be three dimensional, but we care about them anyway.
Writer/director Ted Koland makes several clever choices. As a writer, he develops mystery about Lumpy’s final months and keeps Jaime layered and genuine.
As a director, he employs wide angles and establishing shots to create a firm sense of setting. When the characters are in Arizona, the desert is omnipresent, both in its beauty and intimidating vastness. When they’re in Minneapolis, skyscrapers and traffic ensure we experience their urban surroundings, and when they’re in northern Minnesota, we almost feel winter’s suffocating intensity.
Yet, Koland makes his share of mistakes, as well. The first act suffers from odd, off-putting tonal shifts. Initially, Lumpy’s death is played for laughs, to the extent that even Scott barely seems affected by his friend’s loss.
It only gets worse when Kristin inappropriately peeks at Lumpy’s corpse. Or when her mother and father are obnoxiously awkward.
As problematically, in the early stages, Ramsey, her mother and Priest (Michael Landes) are melodramatic plot devices, not interesting characters.
Moreover, Koland never explains why Scott coordinates so much of Lumpy’s funeral, instead of the man’s mother, whom we eventually meet.
Yet, from the moment Scott and Kristin return to Minnesota all the way to Lumpy’s funeral, Koland almost overcomes these early mistakes. In this middle section, he focuses on his characters and gives his actors space to emote, facts that make the second act near fantastic. And plenty emotional.
But then Koland rushes Best Man Down’s conclusion, skipping over or breezing through moments of potential emotion: Jamie phoning Scott; Scott offering to help Ramsey; Ramsey talking to Scott’s boss; etc.
As much as any 2013 film, therefore, Best Man Down would have benefitted from increased running time.
If the opening and finale had equaled Best Man Down’s middle, the film would have been near remarkable. As is, it is merely average.