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Tom Brook Saturday, 4 March, 2000, 02:23 GMT
Madonna battles the critics
Guy Richie, Madonna and Rupert Everett
Guy Richie, Madonna and Rupert Everett at the premiere
By BBC News Online Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Madonna is trying her luck on the big screen once again with the release this weekend in the US of The Next Best Thing.

Rupert Everett stars opposite Madonna in this serious romantic comedy, which has been made by the acclaimed British director John Schlesinger.

Madonna plays Abbie, a yoga instructor who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with her good friend Robert, who is portrayed by Everett. Robert just happens to be gay.

Abbie decides to bring up her baby with Robert who becomes an extremely committed father. All is smooth sailing until Abbie meets a handsome heterosexual suitor, at which point this serious comedy lapses into a weepy tragedy.

Truthful performance

Apart from Evita in 1996 and A League of Their Own in 1992, Madonna's movie career has been rather lacklustre. The Material Girl may well be hoping that her role in The Next Best Thing will finally bring her credibility as an actress.
Madonna in Evita
Madonna gave a brave performance as Evita
At the film's glitzy New York premiere Madonna waxed enthusiastically about her character. She said: "I feel like it's the first time in a long time that I got to play a normal person, not a larger than life person, and it was a really good part for me."

But American critics don't agree. One early reviewer, after seeing the film posed the question: "Was Madonna always this bad an actress?".

The New York Daily News stated that "range in the acting department, however, continue to elude the singer". The New York Post commented on Madonna's "apparent inability to read a line".

At the premiere, Madonna's colleagues were, by contrast, full of somewhat predictable praise.
Madonna in The Next Best Thing
The Next Best Thing has not impressed critics
On her acting talents director John Schlesinger said: "She was very good, she was concerned about giving an able performance and a real truthful one, so she wasn't concerned about creating a persona that was anything to do with Madonna, just the person that she was playing in the movie."

Quite apart from any criticism of acting in the film - and Madonna isn't the only cast member who has been skewered by American reviewers - The Next Best Thing may not be an easy sell at the US box office because of its gay subject matter.

Controversial notion

Everett, who is gay himself, thinks the film is extremely pertinent because it reflects the changing nature of the family in the year 2000.

"I think it's very relevant," he says, adding: "Conservative people are always trying to say we have to move the family and values back to how it was before, but things are moving forward, everything is changing, women have changed and that means men are changing and everything is changing, so it's exciting."
Rupert Everett
Everett is upbeat about his portrayal of gay fatherhood
Gay fatherhood, as portrayed in the film through Everett, remains an extremely controversial notion for many Americans, particularly for religious conservatives. Madonna says: "It would be a shame if it didn't go over very well.

"In the end it's about love and the family and I don't see why anyone would be opposed to that."

For John Schlesinger, who had gay related themes in both his 1971 film Sunday Bloody Sunday and 1969 classic Midnight Cowboy, this latest picture is seen as more daring.

He sees it as significant that his drama about an unconventional family that includes a gay father has the backing of mainstream Hollywood distributors.

Schlesinger, surprisingly, believes there is less artistic freedom in this arena then there was 30 years ago but he says: "I think it's interesting that we've been allowed to make the film as we have done."

Pop icon

After seeing Madonna's performance some critics are now saying it seems unlikely that she will ever have a real movie career. But whatever happens on the silver screen it will do little to tarnish her image as a potent pop icon.
Madonna
Madonna remains a potent musical force
She always has the music business to fall back on. Her rendition of the Don McLean classic American Pie which she performs in The Next Best Thing has done well in the US charts.

She is also currently working on a new album, a follow up to her multi-platinum Ray of Light, to be released in the autumn which she revealed at the premiere would be "super electro-funk".

To many American critics the prospect of that sounds a lot more enticing that her big screen performances.

See also:

07 Feb 00 | Entertainment
03 Feb 00 | Entertainment
11 Jan 00 | Entertainment
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