New Best Friend Movie Review
A boring, unfocused twist on the dangerous-in-crowd B-movie archetype, "New Best Friend" stars innocent yet mysterious Mia Kirshner ("Exotica," "Not Another Teen Movie") as an insecure outcast at a tony North Carolina college who falls into a drug-induced coma a few weeks after falling in with the campus snob squad of well-heeled sexpots.
It seems party girls Meredith Monroe ("Dawson's Creek"), Dominique Swain ("Lolita") and Rachel True ("The Craft") took dowdy, pouty Kirshner under their collective wing and gave her a makeover that changed her life. Freed from her frumpy sweaters and bed-head hair, the girl suddenly lost interest in schoolwork and her one-scene nobody of a best friend. Now she's all about lip gloss, snug little spaghetti-strapped tank tops (braless, naturally) and inexplicably confident flirtations with the Big Man On Campus (Scott Bairstow), who didn't even know she was alive a few scenes earlier when he walked by in studly, teen-movie slow motion.
Now that she's laid up in a hospital bed, her barfly mother is screaming how the popularity triad must have done something to her, and the small town's temporary sheriff (the talented but badly miscast Taye Diggs) is conducting an investigation that the school's snooty dean wants kept quiet.
Inconsistently narrated from no particular point of view, the plot unfolds in flashback, but barely covers how and why Kirshner started running with these girls. The sheriff has an inept style of fact-gathering that garners little more than gossip (he never even asks one of the suspects about a brace on her arm), but he does learn that the comatose Kirshner became a party animal who may have discovered an innate talent for manipulation when her social status improved.
But her behavior varies so widely from scene to scene it's almost impossible to figure out what's on the girl's mind. In fact, this is a character trait exhibited by all the girls in this newly formed foursome. The performance of Meredith Monroe -- the new best friend of the title -- is all over the map. Sometimes she's spunky, sometimes she's sullen, sometimes she's angry and jealous, sometimes she's wounded. But her friendship with Kirshner is so incongruous that even if her acting wasn't bipolar it still wouldn't be clear when the two are getting along and when they're not.
The other two rich girls have almost no personality at all, save Swain's bisexuality, which is just used as an excuse to secure the film an R-rating, and a brief reference to healthy-looking True being anorexic (a character trait that would have better fitted the emaciated Monroe).
Directed by Zoe Clarke-Williams, who helped create MTV's sex-drenched college dorm soap opera "Undressed," "New Best Friend" plays like a badly edited, 91-minute trailer. It gives the gist of a plot and offers a vague outline of characters, but the director can't seem to get a coherent rhythm going. In fact, it doesn't even seem like she tried.
Of course, there wasn't much to work with in the first place. The screenplay by first-timer Victoria Strouse seems to have its pages shuffled into some random order, as it picks up and drops plot elements at random and has no build-up whatsoever to its flimsiest of finales, built around a seemingly arbitrary conclusion reached by the incompetent sheriff.