new best friend (2002)

director: zoe clarke-williams

mia kirshner, meredith monroe, taye diggs, dominique swain

You have to assume that a film like New Best Friend has ambitions to actually mean something, or address some relevant social issue, by the way it constantly lunges toward some approximation of anguished earnestness from a gauzy, super-softcore aesthetic more appropriate to prurient, “classy sleaze” like The Red Shoe Diaries. In the end, you wish it had stayed true to it’s more honest, latter self, and spared us some really unwatchable “dramatic” moral contortions.

A young college student is in a coma after a drug overdose, and the local sherriff, played by Taye Diggs, has been assigned to get to the bottom of it - nicely, mind you, so as not to upset the delicate relationship the college has with the adjacent town. Alicia, played by Mia Kirshner, was a poor townie who ran with a “fast” crowd of rich girls led by Hadley (Meredith Monroe), the sort of spoiled, dissolute upper-middle class brats so beloved by movies that try to cast a disapproving eye on their moral degeneracy, while letting the camera wallow langurously in their hedonism, their photogenic decadence, their revealing but fashionable wardrobes.

It’s the world of movies like Cruel Intentions, where filmmakers try to fool themselves that they have the moral sagacity of some 18th century wit, popular at court while satirizing it mercilessly. It’s as wholly ridiculous as the premise that Kirshner as Alicia is a “homely” girl, brought to bloom by the perverse generosity of Hadley and her friends. 

Diggs’ investigations trigger a dog’s breakfast of flashbacks and first-person assessments of Alicia by Hadley and her girlfriends, the bulimic Julianne (Rachel True) and the polysexual Sydney (Dominique Swain). It seems that Alicia had an agenda, and played the girls skillfully, with an eye to moving up in the world. Which is worse: social climbing or attempted murder? The director, Zoe Clarke-Williams, seems to think that pondering this question is the very essence of sophistication, and for much of the film we’re treated to a litany of seductions, binges and wild parties, at least until it becomes obvious that some kind of resolution is needed by the ninety-minute mark.

At this point, the issue of who’s telling the truth is dropped in favour of reviving the police investigation that began the film, and which a really skilled director would probably have allowed to fade away, like any convenient but peripheral plot contrivance. A villain is needed, however, and the most obvious one provided, with hardly a hint of moral circumspection the film aspired to for so much of a pointless hour.