Sunday, 27 November 2016

'Almost Christmas' (2016) Review: A Well Cast Bad Ensemble

Catch It On Cable: See it in a year for free when it inevitable runs on cable.
Despite being declared “Most wonderful time of the year”, Christmas has its fair share of critics. Truly, some people don’t enjoy agonizing over the perfect gift, and then spending money on it, for people, that they don’t really care for. That last bit is at the heart of ‘Almost Christmas’, a movie that tries to capture the awkward tension inherent with family gatherings. Isn’t Christmas grand?

For the record: Christmas is awesome. Stop being a Grinch.
For all its attempts at emulating a complex family dynamic, ‘Almost Christmas’ mostly misses the mark. Danny Glover’s Walter is the patriarch of a big family, whose members bring not only their luggage, but all their baggage too. Baggage that seems a little too familiar. There’s the dad that works too much, the sisters who’ve hated each other since they were little. Every character in the film is instantly recognizable, which makes it fairly easy to figure out where everyone will end up when the cameras stop rolling.

Predictability doesn’t make or break a film. The most formulaic of films can have several moments that delight and excite. In the case of ‘Almost Christmas’, those moments are few. Much of the humour is reliant on slapstick, like the wacky uncle falling off a roof after trying to fix a broken roof ornament. While hilarious in a cartoon, when it’s a JB Smoove, it’s a little sad, despite Mr. Smoove's well practiced cartoonish expressions.

Master of the looney tune gaze

That's a harsh knock against JB Smoove who is really trying his damnedest in this movie. He's not the only one giving it his all with Danny Glover giving the film's more somber moments the resonance you wouldn't expect from it, and the triumphant return of Mo'Nique whose irreverent performance is the saving grace of the movie. Hopefully her comeback is not marred by the surrounding mediocrity of this movie.

If you find yourself feeling sad more than once in ‘Almost Christmas’ that’s because underneath the so so comedy is a story of a family attempting to make it through the holidays in mourning. It’s the first Christmas since Walter’s wife died, and the movie is full of heartwarming scenes of different characters working through that grief. Sometimes these scenes seem sudden, completely different in tone from the comedic scenes that played before it. Truthfully though, that’s an honest depiction of grief. It sneaks up on people when they least expect it.

Unfortunately, while it shows tremendous pathos towards the subject of death, and the struggle that times of family and togetherness can have when processing it, on the whole, the movie is undercut by a collection of stories and scenes that are mostly expected, yet unsatisfying still. At the time of year when you’ve already spent money you didn’t want to spend, perhaps save what you have left and miss this one. Next year when it comes on cable, put it on so you can avoid talking to those relatives you wish you didn’t have to see for an hour and a half. At the very least Mo'Nique will have you laughing.

Rating: Catch It On Cable