Abbie is a disillusioned single who decides to have and raise a baby with her gay best friend. When their son is only young, though, she falls in love and wants to move away
Castigated on its release in the States, The Next Big Thing has quickly become something of a laughing stock, widely perceived as an embarrassment for Rupert Everett and another nail in the coffin for Madonna's haphazard acting career. But that's not entirely fair.
Madonna isn't actually that bad. She manages to convincingly portray Abbie's mix of sass and vulnerability, and despair as the situation spirals out of control. The problem is, no matter how well she acts, her iconic status makes it impossible to forget she's Madge - not helped by making Abbie a bindi-wearing yoga instructress who's mates with Rupert Everett. The latter, too is fine, revisiting his My Best Friend's Wedding gorgeous gay friend schtick - and some; he's even more camp, even more hunky, but when necessary tones down the drama to effectively convey the sense of betrayal and desperation he feels at the prospect of losing Sam.
The support roles, however, are vastly underwritten. Vartan's dastardly ex-boyfriend Kevin is simply a plot device, while Bratt's Ben is well-nigh impossible to work out; his first date - and only significant scene - with Abbie shows him to be a charismatic, genuine man, yet all subsequent appearances seem to cast him more as the Nasty Man Trying To Take Robert's Son Away.
Crucially, the movie loses authenticity largely because of a script littered with cheesy cliches - oddly these are often related to the gay characters and themes, and if Madonna and Everett's genuine commitment to "gay" issues wasn't so widely known, this could be embarrassing, even offensive.
Ultimately The Next Best Thing doesn't work because it doesn't know what it wants to be - a quirky romantic comedy, an "issues" movie or a Kramer vs. Kramer-style weepie. And unfortunately, by trying to be all three it fails on all counts.
Some pleasant surprises in the quality of performances but this is a rom-com that thinks it's an issue drama that thinks it's a weepie that thinks it's a rom-com and therefore never really gets in together.