Tribeca Breakdown: "All is Bright"

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Phil Morrison follows up his 2005 indie breakout film Junebug with this hilarious odd couple buddy comedy. Expert comic actors Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti bring screenwriter Melissa James Gibson’s sharply written dialogue to life as a pair of French-Canadian Christmas tree salesmen working to hustle firs in New York City as part of a get-rich-quick scheme.
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Plot:

Taking place in Quebec, Dennis (Paul Giamatti) has just been paroled after doing four years for safe cracking. What he finds when he gets out is that his wife (Amy Landecker) has told his daughter that he’s dead and that she plans on marrying Rene (Paul Rudd), the guy who never showed up when he was supposed to which led to Dennis getting pinched in the first place. Dennis needs a job but has no prospects, so he strong arms Rene into taking him on a trip to New York, where Rene sells Christmas trees in Brooklyn. 

Review:

Giamatti and Rudd have each shown time and again that they’re two of the most likable and capable comic actors working today so it’s no surprise that the few laughs that come from this dramady come from them. Giamatti nails a grinchy guy pushed to the limits of desperation while Rudd is a well-meaning and eccentric foil. It’s also kind of a hoot to listen to these guys do a Quebec accent. But don’t leave out Sally Hawkins (who won a Golden Globe, and several other awards for her performance in “Happy Go-Lucky” in 2008) here either, who steals the show every time she comes on screen as a pushy but kindly Russian house sitter, and possibly love interest for Giamatti’s character.

That said, there should be more of a wittier banter between Giamatti and Rudd but they have very few times where it even seems like they’re even on screen together and when they are it’s more brooding and angry. Although a fight they have while two street kids try to buy a tree off them is pretty funny. While sporadically funny, much of the material here is middling at best. Giamatti has a running gag where he casually steals small things while Rudd’s character is the kind of guy who wonders about the thread count on coats. Basically don’t expect belly laughs.

But there isn’t much they can do with a movie that is so intent on ramming good-will down our throats than putting together an interesting narrative. The theme of bad guys being redeemed is a Christmas staple (we can probably guess that some studio is going to pick this movie up and try to capitalize on it by releasing during the winter months), used to perfection in “Bad Santa”, but that movie didn’t make the conversion seem so inevitable and didn’t feel the need to have to drive home the point with comparisons to the three wisemen of Bethlehem, music that suggests joy is just around that corner, and having Dennis’ daughter count down the days to Christmas with an advent calendar as if these guys are on deadline to become better people by then. There’s good-will and then there’s pandering to people during the Holliday season and “Almost Christmas” feels like the later.    

 

Director Phil Morrison, whose 2005 film “Junebug” launched the career of Amy Adams, provides a lousy pacing and next to zero momentum and Melissa James Gibson’s screenplay basically strands these guys in an almost non-comedy and a drama that continually lets us know that a big epiphany is coming but does nothing but have these guys sit around waiting for it to come. It’s not even winter yet, but I can definitely see people giving this one the cold shoulder.