For the record, I love Thanksgiving and am not a fan of putting up Christmas trees this early, but I can appreciate a feel-good holiday film anytime of the year.
Unfortunately for director David E. Talbert, this delivered few laughs and some grunts and sighs. It’s to be expected, though, as these sorts of films make their rounds ad nauseam during the holidays.
Almost Christmas brings together a recognizable cast, which includes Danny Glover, Mo’Nique and Gabrielle Union, that surely makes the characters more appealing to moviegoers. The premise for this film surrounds a family reunion during Christmas in Birmingham, Alabama, months after Walter’s (Glover) wife, Grace, dies. The once-functional family struggles to get along due to implicit and explicit frustrations among one another.
Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got by the Four Tops softly plays in the background as a very quick opening montage through the years shows how Walter, Grace and their family loved each other. What struck through the first half hour was a sense of composure, which some of these one-time holiday films usually fail to achieve.
As the five-day countdown until Christmas began, the comedic writing by Talbert kicked into gear and shoved more of the serious tones out of the window. Aunt May (Mo’Nique) is very outspoken and makes her presence known from the minute she appears. Most of the personal insults come from her, but not all were cringe-worthy. I even found myself laughing in-between the more heavy-handed jokes, but it was almost too obvious in moments that the stage was her’s.
However, there were far too many cheesy moments and exactly that: heavy-handed jokes. Yeah, we get it, children love their iPhones and documenting everything for social media. But do we need to hear them shout, “Worldstar!”? Yeah, we also get that Uncle Lonnie (J.B. Smoove) is making Santa Claus butt jokes, but you don’t need to linger on the fact that they’re butt jokes. Make ’em and move forward, except for the Worldstar joke. Don’t ever make that joke again.
The movie also introduces Jessie T. Usher for the first time since Independence Day: Resurgence. Usher plays Evan, Walter’s son and a star college football athlete who has everything, yet is addicted to painkillers he was prescribed for his once-injured shoulder. The film uses his drug use to teach a lesson later in the film that was oddly placed in-between another conflict.
Rachel (Union) and her sister, Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), have a bad relationship to boot which ends up being the best relationship/conflict throughout the film. The other relationships were … eh, forgettable. There’s a weaker subplot which involves Christian (Romany Malco), Walter’s son-turned-politican, and it feels like it’s no more than a stopgap for the “Christmas miracle” of the film. It was added to the list of generic moments triggered by the film’s screenplay.
Glover adds little to the film as it moves on other than stopping arguments and reminding his children and family that they need to love rather than shout. It’s understandable why he’s soft-spoken throughout the entire film after losing his wife, but this showcases that his best acting days may be behind him.
I feel the movie will resonate well with audiences that can truly relate to the dysfunction of dinners during the holidays. There were many specific moments where the theater was in raucous laughter and others that struck heartstrings. There’s fun found in a dancing scene, and Almost Christmas ends as it began: with the Four Tops. Seriously speaking, it ends on a feel-good note and is tolerable, but it just doesn’t bring enough to the table to break out of its generic shell.
I saw an advanced screening thanks to Sly Fox. Almost Christmas has a runtime of 1 hour and 52 minutes, is rated PG-13 and releases in North America on Nov. 11.