If you skip one movie trailer this year, let it be the Almost Christmas trailer. It completely misrepresents the tone of the movie. It presents all of the characters as one-dimensional. It gives away most of the last third of the story. On the whole, it does a tremendous disservice to a film that is actually a funny, well-balanced, charming, family comedy.
Opening November 11, Almost Christmas is the ridiculously early holiday film of the year, but thankfully for viewers, it’s not heavily immersed in the Christmas spirit. A lot of the holiday tropes are there – moving life lessons, climactic dinner scene, and a wacky Santa decoration mishap – but, like modern-day classic Home Alone, the holiday season just allows for the context to tell a story. In this case, the holiday is a reason to bring a large family together. Less than a year after the death of his wife, family patriarch Walter (Danny Glover) brings together his four children: Christian (Romany Malco), who is in the middle of a run for US Congress (I guess in a special election?); Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) a successful dentist whose marriage is in trouble; Rachel (Gabrielle Union), a divorced struggling student and mom; and Evan (Jessie Usher), the significantly younger surprise baby of the family, whose college football stardom is the stuff of B-list ESPN commentary. In addition to the variety of spouses, children, and friends, the nuclear family is joined by Aunt May (Mo’Nique), who’s ready to offer loving, profane support to her late sister’s family.
“Funny-but-moving-family-comedy” is a tough needle to thread, particularly when you add in the “holiday film” baggage. But writer/director David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) seems to understand that the key to success is infusing enough subtlety and cleverness to balance out the broader, more physical comedy. The story follows the family Christmas comedy script for sure – even up to the moment of redemption in a shelter for the homeless – but Talbert enhances the formula by finding way to connect each of his main characters with the audience and making them feel relatable. That’s especially tricky in a 2-hour movie with such a large cast, but Talbert is judicious in deciding where to spend his time.
Also, there is chemistry all over this movie. Mo’Nique and Danny Glover play off each other beautifully. All of the kids are surprisingly charming (but very realistically engaged with their phones). The complicated sibling relationships feel real, and Usher’s Evan has enough chemistry with everyone to carry the day. Chemistry is almost more important in family stories than in romantic ones, because you have to believe these people have a history, and Almost Christmas hits that mark.
None of this is to say that the movie is perfect. Any story with this many storylines is going to have a few misfires. As much as I love Omar Epps and Gabrielle Union, the Malachi/Rachel relationship isn’t particularly satisfying. Cheryl’s troubled marriage getting played for laughs sits a little uncomfortably in a movie of this ilk. And there had to be a better way to add depth to Evan’s character than prescription drug dependence.
By and large, though, Almost Christmas is a success just by being better than most of the holiday films and family comedies that have come out in the last few years. It more than clears that low bar and is a good option for those looking for a warm, funny movie to distract them from the realities of life in 2016. Just make sure you steer clear of the trailer.
[ed. note: I normally put a trailer here, but I’m respecting Trisha’s wish to leave it out.]