Guest Review: Almost Christmas (2016)

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS DRAMA


Its November and the Autumn season has started to settle in. The leaves are turning and / or falling, Pumpkins are being thrown away and Halloween decorations are being taking down. And yet, despite that the fact that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, the holiday season of Christmas has started to pop up. From retail stores to radio stations to your neighbor’s houses, Christmas comes early as the seasonal cheer as already begun and will continue to spread as the date holiday season draws closer. Hollywood is no strange to the yuletide holidays, usually producing several Christmas themed films around this time and come out at various points within a 5-6-week time period. In truth, 2016 has a total of 3 feature films, which bring us to the first one of the season (even before Thanksgiving) as Universal Pictures and director David E. Talbert present the holiday comedy Almost Christmas. Is this newest Christmas themed comedy destined to be a holiday classic or is it just a failed holiday feature dreamt up by Hollywood?

THE STORY


It’s the Christmas season for Walter Meyers (Danny Glover), who’s still in mourning over the loss of his beloved wife (Grace), who would celebrate the holiday by preparing her signature sweet potato pie for him. Sick of being alone, Walter gathers his family home for the holidays, including his outspoken sister-in-law May (Mo’Nique), his politician hopeful son Christian (Romany Malco), his college football star son Evan (Jesse Usher), and his two bickering / struggling daughters Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) and Rachel (Gabrielle Union). With everyone bring their significant other and children for Christmas, Walter has a change to enjoy his family (this being the first Christmas since Grace passed away). However, the siblings have other ideas, with various fights and hijinks breaking out during their time at home. As the family hostilities increases, the seasonal celebration goes from bad to worse as several issues come to light, spreading discomfort throughout the family, leaving Walter to preserve his own personal holiday joy by trying to replicate Grace’s famous pie.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Oh, the Christmas season. I do love Christmas and all the holiday spirit that surrounds it. Yes, my family is one of the neighbors who sets up Christmas decorations a bit early, but nothing really ostentatious or obnoxious (no blow-up Santa or reindeers out on our front lawn or anything like that). And yes, I enjoy a good listening of Christmas music now and again. And, of course, I do love watching Christmas movies around this time of year (helps get me in the holiday mood). Amway, back to my movie review. I remember seeing the trailers for Almost Christmas (online and in theaters) and I didn’t really pay that much attention them, believing that the movie was going to be so-so. However, I had free time one night, so I decided to head down to my local theater to catch an evening showing of the movie. After seeing it, I felt that Almost Christmas, while casted by a talented group of actors, finds heart in the holiday spirit, but lacks originality and substance.

Almost Christmas is directed by David E. Talbert, whose previous work includes A Woman Like That, First Sunday, and Baggage Claim. It’s also worth noting that most of Talbert’s film projects (if not all) have him pulling “double duty” as both director and as screenplay writer as he continues this trend in Almost Christmas. In addition to his past endeavors, Talbert has also been praised for blending comedy and drama in his films and does so with Almost Christmas, mixing those two genres in a more harmonious way versus grating each other. That being said, the film’s comedy has its moments (the Christmas dinner table scene is the best) and does “hit” it’s mark more than misses (there’s a few misfires here and there). However, for the most part, the film’s comedy is what you would expect for a movie such as this (i.e nothing new, but still humorous at certain points). Talbert also embraces the holiday spirit, showcasing Christmas decorations and other nuances as well as plenty of family “comfort” food assemblage. The story sometimes trumps the holiday spirit in the movie, but Christmas cheer is present in Almost Christmas. Lastly, while the movie feels somewhat similar to other comedy movies like This Christmas or The Perfect Holiday, Almost Christmas is a bit sharper and heartfelt than those ones. Heck, as a holiday film, its ten times better than seeing A Madea Christmas.

Problems do arise that make Almost Christmas falter in its presentation or rather its undertaking. As whole, the film’s narrative of a family coming together for the holidays (especially Christmas) and sharing various family dynamics / drama is a bit conventional for the genre. Yes, it’s effective, but it’s almost cliché as this particular narrative scenario has been done and redone throughout a multitude of holiday movies. This means that a movie has to find it niche to make itself different from the rest (i.e. similar movies). Unfortunately, beyond a couple of humorous bit, Almost Christmas doesn’t really do that, feeling formulaic through and through.

In addition, the movie meanders through all the various subplot storylines of each family member. Each story threads are almost “tailored” made for problems to occur that it feels like I was watching daytime soap opera drama. Some are good and are rewarded by the film’s end, but the other feels half-baked and don’t really go anywhere. Personally, the movie has too many sub-plot narrative threads in the feature and cutting one (possibly two) of them would help strengthen the movie. Adding to that, those subplot threads feel a bit cliché (i.e. the two bickering sisters, the boy (old flame) next door, the overworked politician campaign, etc.). It’s really nothing new nor original, making Almost Christmas’s story thin and (slightly) manufactured.

The cast in Almost Christmas is (collectively) a talented group of individuals that come together to bring the film’s laughs and drama to life on-screen. Shining the brightest of the grouping are seasoned actors Danny Glover and Mo’Nique as the Walter (the Meyer’s family Patriarch) and May (Walter’s outspoken sister-in-law). Glover may be starting to show some “grey” around his temples, but his acting skills are still as sharp as before, proven to be effective with likeable charm as the quiet / as stalwart leader (Walter) in amidst his dysfunctional family. And yes, Glover says his famous Lethal Weapon line in the movie. In an almost juxtapose manner, Mo’Nique’s May (or Aunt May) delivers the most laughs in the movie, bringing her style of humor and her overall gravitas (be it comedy or small drama moments) to the film’s proceedings. Even most of the film’s bloopers, which are seeing at the end of the film (right before the credits roll), feature Mo’Nique’s outtakes, which are great. In truth, if Glover and Mo’Nique weren’t attached, Almost Christmas wouldn’t have had that much appeal. Luckily, they were.

The rest of the cast are good, but their characters aren’t quite defined, feeling more like the stereotypical characters found in either a classic holiday movie or in your typical “family gathering”. Kimberly Elise and Gabrielle Union are fine (and effective) as the two sisters Cheryl and Rachel. Apart from the pair’s own personal story with each other, each sister has their own separate sub-plot to follow, with Union’s Rachel reconnecting with her ambiguous love / hate relationship with her old high school friend Malachi (Omar Epps) and Elise’s Cheryl tries to reign in her “blowhard” husband Lonnie (J.B. Smoove). Jesse Usher’s Evan (the superstar college football player) has a solid backstory (probably the most heartfelt in the story) as Usher’s performance is more memorable in Almost Christmas than he was did in the box office bomb of Independence Day: Resurgence. Romany Malco is okay as Christian (Walter’s son who has political ambitions) as the character really doesn’t offer that much to the story, with a few exceptions here and there. This also includes his wife Sonya (Nicole Ari Parker). Again, while these characters are stock-like characters in Almost Christmas, most of them are (at least) elevated slightly by the actors / actresses who play them. As a side-note, actor John Michael Higgins’s Brooks (Christian’s campaign manager) and several of the Meyer’s siblings’ children have one or two lines of comedic levity, but are, more or less, window dressing for the feature and nothing less.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Its “home for the holidays” for the Meyer family with the seasonal comedy Almost Christmas. Director David E. Talbert latest film offers up a wide array of laughs and family drama that sprinkled throughout a holiday Christmas themed film. Thanks to the film’s cast, the movie finds heart and has its charm, but doesn’t resonate enough with originality / substance nor in replay value, dishing out standard troupes and scenarios that are commonly found in similar yuletide tales. Personally, the movie was okay. Yes, it had some funny bits and some of its tender moments were poignant, but it felt generic and didn’t bring anything new to the Christmas film genre. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a rental. No big rush to go see the movie in theaters nor to buy when it gets released on home media. Basically, it’s one of the movies that will probably be on Netflix next year and / or on one of the various TV channels (USH, TBS, TNT, FX, etc.) in a year or two. In short, whatever you take away from this movie, Almost Christmas celebrates the holiday season with decorations, food, and drama, but it’s not destined to be a classic Christmas movie.

3.1 Out of 5 (Rent It)

Released On: November 11th, 2016
Reviewed On: November 17th, 2016

Almost Christmas  is rated PG-13 for suggestive material, drug content and language

I hope you enjoyed my review. If interested, head over to my blog Jasons’s Movie Blog to read more of my reviews. Also, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @jasonsmovieblog

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