Known as “Lumpy” when it was shot 2½ years ago in Minnesota, St. Olaf College grad Ted Koland’s indie comedy-drama starring Justin Long now has a smoother title — “Best Man Down” — and, at long last, a release date. It will be available as a video on demand rental through iTunes et al. starting Thursday.
Like the greatest of all Minnesota movies — that would be Elaine May’s 1972 comedy “The Heartbreak Kid” — “Best Man Down” is about a honeymoon absurdly and painfully interrupted. At the Arizona wedding of Scott (Long) and Kristin (Jess Weixler), the groom’s pudgy, stumbling-drunk best man Lawrence (Tyler Labine), a k a Lumpy, falls on a cactus and dies, leaving the newlyweds to handle the deceased’s affairs in the Land of Lakes.
Alas, “The Best Man” is no “Heartbreak Kid.” Where May’s film is scathingly satirical, a black-comic vision of our fair state as an alien land of cold climes and colder people, Koland’s settles for mildly amusing and ultimately sweet. Turns out Lumpy was a boor with a big heart.
After flying home to Minneapolis, the bickering young couple endure a bizarre meal — a staple of Minnesota movies, you betcha — with Kristin’s predictably gauche mom Gail (a barely recognizable and rather funny Shelley Long). Then, following up on a clue left behind by Lumpy, the pair drive north to find one Ramsey Anderson in Lutsen (though the filmmakers appear never to have set foot there).
The movie’s one joke about Lutsen is that it’s impossible to find muffins there — only Hostess cupcakes. More seriously, the couple discover that Ramsey is a 15-year-old girl (Addison Timlin) whose dad died of a drug overdose and whose mom (Frances O’Connor) has taken up with another addict (Evan Jones). Claiming she’s pregnant with Lumpy’s kid, Ramsey looks like a prime candidate for adoption down in Minneapolis, as writer/director Koland begins to get lumpy in the throat.
Hardly a classic among Minnesota movies, “Best Man Down” is nevertheless worth a look. It’s well-shot in widescreen and makes handsome use of Minneapolis locations — the Walker and the light rail coming across as particularly pretty. Beyond that, as Marge Gunderson would say, there’s not a heck of a lot to discuss.
Also notable on VOD
Among Minnesota movies, the well-known likes of “Fargo,” “North Country,” “Sweet Land,” “Purple Rain” and “A Prairie Home Companion” are all easy to find on VOD. But a few lesser-seen and worthy hometown films are also available.
• Shot on the Fond du Lac Reservation of northern Minnesota, Georgina Lightning’s “Older Than America” (Netflix) follows a Native American woman’s struggle to come to terms with a legacy of abuse.
• “Detective Fiction” (iTunes), the first fully Minnesotan feature to screen at Sundance (in 2003), finds writer/director Patrick Coyle directing himself as an uninspired husband and recovering alcoholic who pounds out pages of a hardboiled novel while struggling not to pound back drinks.
• Director Jan Troell’s 1971 film “The Emigrants” (iTunes, YouTube, Vudu) follows the treacherous transatlantic and inland journey of mid-19th-century Swedes to Minnesota; it stars Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.