With the holidays quickly approaching, writer-director David E. Talbert gives audiences an early Christmas treat with his latest holiday film, “Almost Christmas.” It’s a simple concept: During a holiday reunion, recently widowed Walter Meyers (Danny Glover) makes a desperate plea for his family to live peacefully underneath the same roof for a mere five days. It’s a sweet-spirited film with a charismatic cast of characters and some hilarious performances, but like the Christmas tradition, be prepared for the standard cookie-cutter routine.
Walter is able to get the entire family, an ensemble that may or may not seem embarrassingly familiar to all audiences, to the Christmas table this year. There’s the painkiller-addicted son (Jessie T. Usher), divorced and broke law school candidate daughter (Gabrielle Union), her antagonistic in-your-face wealthy older sibling (Kimberly Elise), lustful old basketball star uncle (J.B. Smoove), aspiring politician with no time to talk (Romany Malco), the scarily tech-savvy grandchildren and the famous backup-singer sister-in-law (Mo’Nique). It’s a strong cast of characters that comprises multiple generations of this dysfunctional family, and it really is a joy to watch them all come together for some fun laughs. While cooking in the kitchen, the kids initiate a dance party and each generation successively showcases dance moves reminiscent of the jams they listened to in their own heyday. It’s one of those small cinematic pleasures watching the evolution of dance and music through familial generations, and each character has a lot of fun “tearing up that dance floor” — that is, until the neglected food in the oven starts burning and tensions flare up again.
As with almost any family, the Meyers really can’t make it through any shared activity without fighting, shouting or crying. They have five days to survive each other, which seems increasingly difficult as each countdown screen-transition brings us closer and closer to the inevitable outburst at Christmas dinner. There’s some sharp banter throughout, with characters biting into each other like Christmas ham. Mo’Nique as Aunt May confidently owns the spotlight with her exorbitant persona and a loose tongue that holds no bars, whereas J.B. Smoove seems to greedily throw himself in front of the camera. Most of his spitfire jokes are incomprehensible and drag on too long, while his exchange with guest star Keri Hilson is painfully awkward (there’s just something off-putting about watching people take selfies on-screen). It’s also a little strange how the deceased mother, Grace (Rachel Kylian), finds her way into every scene. She’s supposed to have been the glue of the family, but when every single conversation ends with a shoehorned, sentimental reflection about “Mom,” she ultimately seems more of a cult leader than a mother.
The biggest challenge in “Almost Christmas” is giving each character sufficient screen-time and development. After the hilariously over-the-top implosion of Christmas dinner (where the dramatic irony becomes ridiculously unbearable), be prepared for each character’s inner conflicts to be neatly wrapped up with a pretty bow tie. Sure, it’s a nice presentation, but more of an aesthetic than authentic development that accurately represents the complexity of familial relations. In the end, “Almost Christmas” is a heartfelt, although standard, warm comedy about that crazy and irrational feeling of love for those crazy and irrational people we call “family.”
Director: David E. Talbert
Starring: Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, JB Smoove
Release Date: November 11, 2016
Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures