It came out of nowhere to win the best documentary Oscar in 1980, and by now Best Boy should be acknowledged as one of the finest documentaries in film history. Filmmaker Ira Wohl took as his subject his own cousin, 52-year-old Philly, a retarded man who had lived his entire life with his parents. Seeing the physical decline of the parents, Wohl suggested they prepare Philly for living away from home for the first time in his life. This process becomes a beautiful and soul-stirring (and even hilarious) experience, as the people in Philly's life become indelible characters. Many fiction films try to manufacture a kind of movie "magic" out of fantasy, but Best Boy finds it in tiny steps forward, the delicacy of family, and the joy of singing (you may never hear "If I Were a Rich Man" the same way again). Through it all, the irrepressible Philly emerges as a rich man in his own terms.
Twenty years after making Best Boy, Ira Wohl looked in again on his cousin Philly, now over 70 but still as sunny and fond of dessert as ever. Living in a home with other developmentally disabled people, Philly appears even more capable and content in the world. Wohl gets the idea to prepare Philly for his bar mitzvah--a little late in life, but nonetheless an important experience. Best Man doesn't have the deep emotional pull provided by Philly's parents from the first movie, although his loyal sister becomes an important figure in this one. But it's a very nice update on a memorable corner of the world. --Robert Horton