An ex-con and the man who has taken up with his wife join forces to sell Christmas trees in the run-up to the festive period. All Dennis (Paul Giamatti) wants is to make enough money to buy his daughter a piano for Christmas. Standing in the way of that is his criminal record and his dense, too-laid back ex-pal Rene (Paul Rudd). Hijinks ensue.
Slow, heartfelt, Indie hijinks, that is. Phil Morrison’s Almost Christmas (not the original, superior title of All is Bright) could have gone raunchy and crude like last year’s The Night Before, or heartbreaking and… well, also crude, like Bad Santa, with the presence of Rudd and Giamatti boding well for either. Neither is quite the case though, instead this is a quieter character study of two troubled men just trying to get by at Christmas.
Go in expecting big laughs and typical Paul Rudd charisma and you may be sorely disappointed; Giamatti’s Dennis is the film’s leading man, and he plays it surprisingly serious and morose, like the villain from a Sam Raimi Spider-Man sequel. His anger and resentfulness aren’t particularly endearing, and we can see why his ex-wife might want nothing to do with him. It’s neither funny nor dark enough to make us care, instead leaving the audience almost as depressed as Dennis himself.
That’s a valid perspective though, Christmas being a perfectly miserable time for many people - far from the universal state of cheer and goodwill suggested by most Christmas movies or media. It’s just that Almost Christmas never commits to its conceit enough to say much about it, being largely uninspiring, unexciting and only fitfully amusing. Dennis’s friendship with a lonely house sitter named Olga (an underused Sally Hawkins) is sweet but goes nowhere, mulling over its time until the mildly predictable finale.
All that Almost Christmas really has going for it is its stars, most of who can do and have done better before. Teetering on the edge of being a good, bleaker-themed Christmas comedy, it’s almost there, but not quite.
ALMOST CHRISTMAS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: PHIL MORRISON / SCREENPLAY: MELISSA JAMES GIBSON / STARRING: PAUL GIAMATTI, PAUL RUDD, SALLY HAWKINS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW