New Best Friend
There are a few themes in films that Hollywood reuses time and time again. One is the Prince and the Pauper, the juxtaposition of a poor but honest character with one that is rich and privileged. New Best Friend is the latest opus of this genre. Alicia Glazer (Mia Kirshner) is a hard working young woman trying her best to maintain her grades to keep the scholarship that keeps her in the high end Colby College. While the actress is very attractive the makeup people do their best to try to present her has plain and unassuming. The film flips between two time frames. First, the present where the acting sheriff Artie Bonner (Taye Diggs), tries to determine the facts behind a drug overdose that befell Alicia. The second is shown in flashbacks where Alicia has a growing friendship with three rich and popular girls. There is Hadley (Meredith Monroe), blonde, beautiful and rich. Alicia is paired with Hadley for a Sociology term project. Next there is Julianne (Rachel True), the young black girl that enjoys a party and is dismissive of almost everyone. Lastly there is Sydney (Dominique Swain) the oversexed one whose hedonistic attitudes control her life. While Alicia lies in a comma Artie uses a very familiar film device to investigate the events surround her overdose, he finds her diary. Of course Artie is under pressure from the head of the college to keep things low key. It seems the only reason the overdose is being investigate is the person was a scholarship student. As always, the rich are to be protected. The story follows how Alicia insulates herself into the fast paced lives of the three girls. Initially the reason is the mutual goal of passing the term project. The rich trio permits Alicia into their lofty circle as a joke. Make the plain poor girl look good and keep her around for a laugh. The treat her almost like a real life Barbie doll. Alicia is socially unprepared to deal with these girls. Her need for a good grade soon succumbs to the desire for social acceptance. She finds herself in situations that she would never have imagined herself in, accompanying them to a drug buy, attending wild parties and even a lesbian affair with the wild Sydney. Artie digs deeper into the events becoming mesmerized by the unfolding events. By wanting to get to the truth there is the undercurrent of job jeopardy always a step away.
While the cast is very young in years several have a considerable resume of films. Kirshner has been in many films. Usually she plays the more experienced young woman as she did in The Crow City of Angels, Exotica and Mad City. Here, as the one experiencing the innocence lost syndrome she demonstrates an innate talent to assume different roles. She has a fine grasp of her character bringing the audience to an understanding of what drove Alicia to such a major change in her she views life. It would have been easy to make the motive jealousy of the rich girls life style but the performance of Ms Kirshner brings more dimension to the role. Monroe has a nice number of roles under her belt but most are rather minor. Here she has the chance to show herself in a leading character. Movements and gestures that convey a person used to privilege and exception augments her presentation of Hadley. I look forward to her next project. Swain burst on the scene as a very young girl in the very sensuous and controversial title role in the 1999 Lolita. Her portrayal of Sydney lacks some dimension. She comes across as a party girl looking for any stimulation that sex and drugs can provide. Swain has a considerable amount of talent that just didnt seem to receive a fair showcase here. Even more type cast is True. Her role is is almost identical to the one she had in the Craft.
Zoe Clarke-Williams has a couple of other minor films to her credit but this is the first real chance to show what she can do. As with many young directors she is still finding her way. Her style here is a mixture of different methods. The film opens with a technique heavily used in the seventies, the split screen. It does work here since it brings the juxtaposition of Alicia and Hadley immediately to the attention of the audience. One drawback many directors fall into with a story told mostly through flashbacks is jumping too quickly between the time frames. Ms Clarke-Williams deftly avoids this giving the audience enough time in each time to gather another piece of the story. During the infamous love scene she choose to avoid being too explicit and uses a distorted reflective surface to convey the emotion rather than focusing on flesh. Its little touches like this that make the film come across as more interesting than the basic script can provide. The pacing is very well done here. A film like this runs the danger of being bogged down with exposition but here the material is mostly presented in a visual manner rather than lengthy breaks of one person explaining everything to another. This film took awhile to find a release in the theaters. Made in 1999 it was a couple of years in the can before the studio decided to bring it to theaters. While it is not an award caliber film it deserved a chance for an audience. Clarke-Williams is still on the learning curve as a director but I see her as being at the helm of some impressive pictures in the near future.
The disc is better than most lower budget films receive. The Dolby 5.1 sound comes across fairly well. The sub woofer is mostly used during the booming music at the many parties and the rear speakers are used mostly for ambiance in outdoor scenes. The video is anamorphic 1.78:1 with an adequate color palette and is free of defect or compression artifacts. The only real extra is a directors commentary that focuses more on production than an analysis of the film. While not one of the great films of our time it does deserve a viewing.