HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Almost Christmas
HTS Overall Score:79
While Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, it’s not ALWAYS a bundle of joy. There’s always the blending of multiple families together under one roof and tensions can run quite high. There’s no shortage of films that have lampooned or toyed with the craziness that is the holiday chaos that we know as Christmas, and the overwhelming insanity of the holiday has become sort of a memorial or staple of the Christmas season. Director/Writer David E. Talbert has only put out a total of 4 films including “Almost Christmas”, but he HAS shown improvement for the last few projects. “First Sunday” was pretty painful to watch, but “Baggage Claim” actually showed some maturity and growth to his fairly formulaic approach, so I was willing to give his latest film a check, especially when you see the fairly star studded cast. “Almost Christmas” IS formulaic, and it DOES feel like the plot was assembled with off the shelf components, but the enthusiasm and obvious excitement from the cast give more life to the film than really would have been afforded otherwise. It’s cheesy, confectionary like material, but there are more hits than misses in this chuckle worthy Christmas story.
It’s the first Christmas for The Meyers family since the matriarch of the family died earlier in the year. Walter Meyers (Danny Glover) is struggling with the death of his wife, and the giant family Christmas that she has so masterfully organized for the last 40+ years just seems overly daunting. Annoying sister in laws (played by Mo’Nique), feuding daughters, an 18 year old college student of a youngest (who is struggling with addiction to pain pills), a future senator for another son, and of course all the associated significant others and their accumulated problems and personalities to deal with are the coming to a head. Poor Walter is struggling not only with his wife’s death, but HOW to pull off a fantastic Christmas spread, which was the proverbial bread and butter of his wife’s contribution to the holiday (and of course replicate her magical sweet potato pie).
Naturally things start falling apart the minute the first person arrives. Aunt May (Mo’Nique) is a tour de force of blatant sassy fireworks, and right on her heels is Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) with her stuck up, and slightly poor in ambition, husband Lonnie (J.B. Smoove). Next up is Rachel (Gabrielle Union), the arch nemesis of Cheryl and a struggling single mother of one who is trying to make it through law school. Christian (Ronny Malco) is running for Senator and can’t seem to keep his work out of the holiday, and the rest of the crew are just along for the fireworks. The holidays bring the normal bickering, but also family squabbles with Walter wanting to sell the house, or Lonnie schtooping the cute check out girl at the local grocery store. Then there’s an old-fashioned romance between Rachel and an old flame named Malachi (Omar Epps) that is obviously going to end with a foot pop and plenty of smooches.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90506[/img]Director and writer David E. Talbert admittedly didn’t come up with a very original script. If you listen to the extras he admits that opening montage with the family growing older was inspired by (and pretty much lifted) from the opening sequence from Pixar’s “Up”. The rest of the script obviously has the same well-worn patterns and clichés to add to the picture, but they’re fairly successful and well-worn for a reason, they just usually work. Now, with that much cliché and certain cheesiness to the family drama, I was expecting the movie to head south in a hurry, but what really saves the film is the enthusiasm and chemistry between the cast. Danny Glover is starting to REALLY show his age recently, but he still has that same charm and style that made him so famous (there’s even a wink and a nod to the “Lethal Weapon” series with a rendition of “I’m too old for this ….”), and Mo’Nique steals just about every scene she’s in. J.B. Smoove is known for playing a sort of “slick willy” type of character, and he’s no different here, but his smooth talking and Mo’Nique’s no nonsense attitude make for some lively banter. Sadly the weakest link in the whole movie was Gabrielle Union, and I usually love her. The woman still looks as gorgeous as ever (for 42 years old she certainly doesn’t look it), but she seems to have been given the comedic role of the film, and her character arc doesn’t always feel natural. It’s more an issue of the script not giving her a lot to work with than anything, as she has plenty of range in other roles that I’ve witnessed her in. The same goes for Omar Epps as Malachi. He’s in the film for a few minutes and spends half of those times yelling at his mom (who is actually voiced by David E. Talbert).
I hate to say this, but even though it’s confectionary sugary at the core and full of clichés, I kind of liked “Almost Christmas”. The cast plays off of each other incredibly well and David E. Talbert makes those appeals to pathos seem natural and heartwarming rather than overly annoying. Certain aspects of the movie (including some of the slapstick humor) don’t always come across the best, but the good intentions and warm comradery of the cast make up for most of the foibles. Or at least enough of them to warrant a pass, in my opinion.
Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, drug content and language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90474[/img]“Almost Christmas” comes to Blu-ray with a beautiful looking digital shoot that soaks up the warmth of the cast and displays on screen for all to bear witness to. The image is ever so slightly given a red push and the copious amount of red decorations and Christmas skin tones have a slightly ruddy look as a result, but otherwise they tend to look fairly natural. Fine detailing is resplendent, with textural details of the Meyers home showing up with pinpoint precision, and everyone’s faces and clothing are replicated perfectly. Black levels are deep and inky, showing off as much shadow detail as possible with only the slightest amount of black crush creeping in.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90482[/img]Being that it’s a dramedy, the mix is decidedly front heavy for a majority of the film, with strong emphasis on dialog, but there are quite a few moments of more explosive power (such as Uncle Lonnie on the roof with the electrical Santa) where the movie shows off some rather impressive dynamic range. Low end is subtle, but also powerful when needed, spending most of the time with John Paesano’s whimsical score, but also adding some serious low end much when called upon. The dialog is clean and clear, perfectly centered up in the front, and the surrounds have enough ambient noise throughout the movie to keep it a fairly dynamic and encompassing track.
• Even More Gags
• Aunt May Unplugged
• Home For the Holidays
• The Director Diaries
• Walter Meyers' Sweet Potato Pie
• My Favorite Scene Is...
• Working With Actors
• Feature Commentary with Director David E. Talbert, Editor Troy Takaki and Apprentice Editor Gene Lewis Jr.
“Almost Christmas” isn’t going to be a Christmas classic, or a classic of any type really, but it manages to be a fairly enjoyable family film (with a few adult twists and turns) that is a definite step up in quality over the director’s last few outings. Nothing is very original or sparks a whole lot of intellectual debate, but the movie deals with some serious issues with enough finesse for me to give a complementary head nod to the powers that be for treating them so well. The real pull for the movie is STILL the warmth of the cast, but the sharp Blu-ray transfer and great audio make for a solid all around package for those of you who want to check it out. It’s a sugary, but rather sweet rental in my personal opinion.
Starring: Kimberly Elise, Omar Epps, Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union
Directed by: David E. Talbert
Written by: David E. Talbert
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish, French DTS 5.1, English DVS
Runtime: 111 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 7th, 2017
Buy Almost Christmas On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Sugary Rental
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