‘Almost Christmas’ is Almost Not Half-Bad

almost_christmas_filmNever a bad time for a Christmas movie, even if it’s really nowhere near Christmas…

“Almost Christmas” is the first of several yuletide films this holiday season and features an ensemble cast as a dysfunctional family that reunites for Christmas for the first time since their mother passed away. Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, Jessie Usher, Danny Glover, Omar Epps and John Michael Higgins are among the many names on the billing block as David E. Talbert writes and directs.

I have two kinds of guilty pleasure movie genres: Christmas themed and ensemble cast comedies. No matter how cheesy and corny, badly written or lazily constructed, I find enjoyment out of any and all film that falls under either of those categories. Even awful films like “Love the Coopers” bring me some joy to watch, so “Almost Christmas” was an early holiday present. It’s not very good, but it has enough charm and laughs to not be a total waste of your time (a glowing endorsement, I know).

Like most ensemble comedies, this features a lot of attractive actors with a lot of intersecting storylines, and some are more interesting than others. The two standouts performance-wise are Mo’Nique as the sister-in-law and Jessie Usher as the youngest son. Mo’Nique has a majority of the film’s laughs because she’s given the liberty to say pretty much whatever she wants and although she plays up every stereotype known to the cinematic world, when her character is not on screen her lack of presence is felt. Jessie Usher has charisma and he brings energy to his scenes, and actually has a monologue towards the end of the film that is quite emotionally impactful. It was baffling to me, because he was such a charismatic blackhole in this year’s “Independence Day: Resurgence,” despite supposedly being Will Smith’s son.

The rest of the cast is fine (Gabrielle Union has more lines after her first scene than she did in all of “The Birth of a Nation”) but they’re really just used to push the plot along and none of them really earn our emotional investment.

Speaking of moving the plot along, most every scene in this film is used to deliver dialogue and bits of information simply to progress the narrative for the most contrived reasons. One character has an addiction to painkillers so you know that will lead to some big dramatic scene later. Another character flirts with person so you know their spouse will eventually find out and it will lead to a big dramatic scene later; this isn’t high art. It’s all lazy and we’ve seen it all before, but if you’re volunteering to watching a film like this, I very much doubt you’re in it to critique it (the irony is rich, I know).

The film wears on and for being a Christmas-themed movie there isn’t too much “Christmas’ing” (the film is set in Alabama and was shot in Atlanta), and at times some laughably dumb things happen (a character changes into a dress and gets their hair done in a matter of 30 seconds).

“Almost Christmas” has enough humorous moments, including a fantastic scene that includes deadpan, screeching and sight gags so a little something for everyone, and warmth to coast by past its more clichéd moments. It feels genuine, which is sometimes hard to come by in this day and age, and while I can’t fully endorse you going out to the Cineplex to see it (it is only the second week of November, after all), if you’re like me and love these types of movies no matter what, then it’s exactly what you would expect it to be. Take that semi-endorsement with however much of a grain of salt you want.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Universal Pictures

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