Almost Christmas (2016) Review

Almost Christmas is a 2016 comedy-drama about a family that tries to mend bridges when they all come together for Christmas nearly a year after the death of someone special.

The Christmas movie has essentially become far less about the actual holiday and more about dysfunctional families trying to make it through the week, most presented as absurd comedies. Every year they churn out new ones that fill the void as old ones dissipate into the ether, left to fade into obscurity. With Almost Christmas, the formula is back on the table, wrapped up in familiar bows and ribbons, and while nothing inside surprises, it is what it is and if you’re in the right spirit, will bring the warmth.

We start with a touching and upbeat montage of Walter and Grace, lovers who come together in the early 1970s who through the next forty some years buy a big home and raise a big family. It’s bit like UP (without the kids), with time passing fast as the world changes around the sons and daughters and soon their sons and daughters. Then it comes to a sharp emotional halt when we see Walter (Danny Glover), now an elder man, sitting alone on his bed, clearly mourning the loss of Grace.

Another eight months pass and the holidays arrive. Walter wants the family to stay with him and so in come his adult children (Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, Kimberly Elise, and Jessie T. Usher) who most have their own spouses and children. Naturally, long simmering tensions and grumblings surface as the clan bickers over the small stuff as they work their way closer to the big day.

Directed by David E. Talbert, Almost Christmas is chuck full of all the usual holiday movie standards and plays them all out with exacting precision, from miscommunication and sibling rivalries, to old wounds and new aches. We see big food that goes wrong, a family football game musical montage, children schooling their parents, spontaneous synchronized dancing, Christmas decorations that go kaplooey, an argument between two people with a long standing grudge that ends with a kiss, and more. And always when the ups reach their highest, something brings them down before the heartwarming close.

Almost Christmas
Almost Christmas, 2016 ©Universal Pictures

That’s not to say the cast doesn’t sell it well. Glover is of course, the cornerstone that keeps the whole crew running, but there’s some good work here from others as well, with Union funny and convincing as well as J.B. Smoove playing Uncle Lonnie who hits all the pratfalls and brings most of the bigger laughs. Mo’Nique shows up as Aunt May, full of spunk and funk as a former Motown queen and Omar Epps gets a sort of cameo that hits the right marks. There’s a big cast here, and surprisingly, the film finds room for them all, even when it seems like it couldn’t possibly. 

Issues pop up in the story like prescription painkiller addiction and a shelter that’s threatened by zoning, and a cheating man, and a looming real estate sale but none are truly weighty and all solved with minimal effort and a rifle, though what else should we expect? It’s Christmas. Movies like this aren’t made to challenge. When a man falls off the roof, it’s funny. That’s what Christmas movies are all about.

Almost Christmas does have a few good laughs though a lot fall flat. The emotional swings get pretty wide as the movie steams to its inevitable end, and perhaps a few strings could have been cut to give more attention to the more credible ones, but there’s enough to satisfy those looking for some light holiday fare.

Almost Christmas (2016)

Director(s): David E. Talbert

Actor(s): Kimberly Elise, Omar Epps, Danny Glover, Mo'Nique, Romany Malco, J.B. Smoove, Nicole Ari Parker

Genre: Christmas

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