(2016) (Danny Glover, Romany Malco) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Comedy: A large family gathers five days before Christmas for their holiday since losing their matriarch.
- Walter (DANNY GLOVER) is a recent widower who is looking to find some holiday joy by having all four of his adult children home for Christmas, along with their spouses, significant others, and offspring. All he asks is for the family to get along for the five days leading up to Dec. 25th in which they'll once again be under one roof. As it turns out, it's too much to ask.
His oldest son, Christian (ROMANY MALCO), is running for political office and a shady campaign finance deal could result in the bulldozing of the homeless shelter that his late mother helped run. Walter's oldest daughter, Cheryl (KIMBERLY ELISE), is unaware that her husband, Lonnie (J.B. SMOOVE), is a cheating louse. She also can't be in the same room with her younger sister, recently divorced Rachel (GABRIELLE UNION), without quarreling with her. And youngest son, Evan (JESSIE T. USHER), is a college football star who has become secretly addicted to painkillers.
Also in the mix is Walter's sister-in-law, the profane and outspoken Aunt Mae (MO'NIQUE), who is all too eager to comment on everyone's quirks and problems; Malachi (OMAR EPPS), the proverbial boy next door who still has a thing for Rachel; and Sonia (NICOLE ARI PARKER), Christian's supportive wife and the mother to his two kids. Rivalries and secrets come to a boil on Christmas Day. And that's before all concerned discover that Walter is on the verge of selling the family house.
- OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
- Dysfunctional family holiday comedies are nothing new. We get at least one every holiday season, it seems. And they always start off the same. Multiple siblings are introduced, and they each have their quirks, secrets, foibles, and problems. Most dread the idea of coming home for Christmas because of some issue that you just know will get resolved by the closing credits. Meanwhile, an exasperated family patriarch or matriarch or both just want everybody to get along.
The latest entry in this genre is "Almost Christmas," and it's one of the more tolerable ones. That's mostly due to a game cast of appealing actors and a willingness to (for the most part) not go for cheap scatological humor. Danny Glover is the biggest reason to see the flick. He is Walter, the widowed father of four grown children who are all returning home for the holiday, their first without their beloved mother.
And, yes, each has one big problem that they try to keep hidden for the most part. Christian (Romany Malco) is running for political office, but his campaign is supporting a project that will bulldoze the homeless shelter that his late mother volunteered at for years and years. His little brother Evan (Jessie T. Usher) is a college football player secretly addicted to painkillers. Their sister, Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), is married to a cheating louse named Lonnie (J.B. Smoove). And their other sister, Rachel (Gabrielle Union), is newly divorced, a single mom, and unable to afford law school.
Even Walter has a secret of his own. He is on the verge of selling the family house, and he hasn't consulted anyone on it. Predictably, most of these secrets come out on Christmas Day at the dinner table or soon after. Writer-director David E. Talbert does his best to make it all seem organic to the plot. But it's impossible not to detect the formula running throughout the film.
Fortunately, the characters kept me interested even though I knew where all of their subplots were going from the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie. In addition to Glover, Elise and Union score especially well as quarreling sisters and direct opposites. Their bickering has some real bite for a comedy that's mostly light otherwise.
The film is so classy and underplayed for the most part, that it's a bit disconcerting that Talbert felt the need to insert the crass and profane Aunt Mae character (Mo'Nique) into the narrative. From an outtakes reel played just before the end credits, it's clear Talbert just let Mo'Nique go in many of her scenes. The result, though, is a highly imbalanced film whenever Aunt Mae is onscreen. She's not an ensemble character, but instead plays like second-rate Madea.
Not only that, but Mo'Nique is entirely too young to play her. She mentions through the film that she was a backup singer to such acts as the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Sly and the Family Stone. But that kind of resume would require an actress in the part, say, of Whoopi Goldberg's age. She really doesn't look any older than Elise and certainly not anywhere near a contemporary of Glover's.
Other nitpicks abound, like a full-on business dinner involving the Christian character, his campaign manager, and numerous financiers on Christmas night. Would such an informal meeting really happen on the biggest holiday of the year?
Regardless, I am giving this a mild recommend for those looking for a new flick to get them into the early holiday spirit. It's more a movie of small smiles and chuckles than laugh-out-loud moments. But there is a pie scene at the end that is surprisingly emotional along with a father-and-son scene between Glover and Usher, and a nice moment where the Rachel character opens a certain letter. Sure, I'm a sap and Christmas movies work on me way too often. Add this to the list. I give it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)
Reviewed November 10, 2016 / Posted November 11, 2016
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