An embittered writer's movie about the coruscating damage of jealousy and the impossibility of finding nobility in failure, Second Best has a pretty good time with its characters, even with all the sad sacks on display. Written and directed by Eric Weber, it's all about Elliot Kelman (Joe Pantoliano), a former publishing executive who bombed out and returned to his small New Jersey hometown - more than a whiff of autobiography here, as Weber was once a big-city ad exec but now lives in a small town and writes screenplays - where he spends his time obsessing over his failure and that of his group of friends. As a means of getting his creative juices out (or simply rubbing his depression in everybody's face), Elliot writes a weekly missive about "The Loser," which he is too scared will be rejected and so just prints up several thousand of them and hires a high school kid to leave them around town. And so, Elliot's self-hating, barely-fictionalized musings about why he and others like him are failures, and why it's better to acknowledge that than delude themselves, flutter in the wind, taped to delicatessen windows, stuffed under windshield wipers, blowing down the street.
The big event awaited by Elliot's friends - a bum but friendly bunch that include a broke real estate agent, an ER doctor and an older guy with prostate cancer - is the arrival of their old friend, movie magnate Richard (Boyd Gaines), whose newest blockbuster just won a slew of Oscars. The jealousy that envelops all of is deadly, of course, but at least Richard lets them play at a nice golf course, so it's not all bad. Although Weber doesn't go the expected route by turning Richard into a preening Hollywood villain, that doesn't stop Elliot (who sells suits at the mall and cadges money from everybody he knows, including his nursing home-confined mother) from feeling bitterly resentful at his friend's wealth and success.
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