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At the Movies: The Next Best Thing

Sherry Roberts

I am just guessing, but there is probably one yoga movie for every thousand cop flicks. Why aren't more yoga movies made? Aren't swamis sexy? Why do we prefer car chases to karma?

Yoga lacks that dramatic necessity — conflict. (The conflict between muscles when you're trying to lift your foot behind your head in the eka pada sirasan or leg-head pose is not the stuff of cinema.) However, yoga makes good window dressing in The Next Best Thing, a movie starring Madonna as a yoga teacher who has a baby with her gay best friend played superbly by Rupert Everett. 

Yoga Journal and USA Today have made much of the authenticity of the yoga scenes in the movie. Madonna, a student of ashtanga yoga, brought in her own teachers, Kimberly Flynn and Noah Williams, to be consultants on the film. They advised on decor, class instruction, and fashion. "This really is the first time yoga has been taken seriously on a film project," Flynn told USA Today. 

Students of yoga will be able to relate to scenes like Benjamin Bratt's first yoga class (he eventually becomes Madonna's fiancee in the movie). Toned and muscular Bratt falls over, peeks during chanting, and quickly realizes yoga brings a whole new dimension to "being in shape."

Perhaps the most refreshing scenes in the movie are seeing children practicing yoga: Madonna's 7-year-old son (Malcolm Stumpf) leads a pretend yoga class with his friends in the backyard and later pulls up a mat and moves into the asana's (poses) right along with the adults in yoga class.

Still this is not a movie about yoga. It is a story of love and family — and all the ways we fold, twist, and mutilate those intertwining concepts. The conflict comes as this nontraditional family (Madonna, Everett, and Stumpf) finds that inner peace is always susceptible to outer — and more traditional — forces. 

To most of us, the next best thing implies settling, compromising. The concept of compromise is a big part of yoga. So maybe this movie is more about yoga than it first appears. The final conflict is resolved in true yogic fashion — by letting go.

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