Dysfunctional family holiday movies have become commonplace at the theaters in the days before Thanksgiving, so even before the first pie comes out of the oven, “Almost Christmas” already faces the challenge of avoiding the staleness of a tired genre.
The good news: an appealing cast that’s easy on the eyes. The bad news: a half-baked script that leaves us wanting more. In short, “Almost Christmas” is a serviceable though not an inspired film.
Danny Glover (solid, as always) plays pleasant patriarch Walter Meyers, who is reeling from the recent death of his wife. Soon enough, his four children descend on the family homestead in Alabama for the holidays, and all Walter wants for Christmas is for everyone to get along for a short spell. Naturally, this is an impossible task, as mayhem ensues.
Most of the dysfunction centers on the two daughters, Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) and Rachel (Gabrielle Union), who seem to despise each other for no good reason. And a reason would really help here. Most of their conflict comes off as manufactured.
We don’t get a good sense of what makes this family tick, or not tick. The filmmakers try to make up for this deficit with gags, but the hit-or-miss results only reinforce the fact that nothing much is going on.
Director/writer David Talbert, who has earned kudos for his work in live theater, shows more confidence in his male characters. Jessie Usher is appealingly tender and funny as the youngest son, Evan. The same goes for Omar Epps, who portrays Rachel’s next-door suitor.
The only woman to make a strong impression is played by Mo’Nique. She tackles the role of the no-nonsense Aunt May with a humorously odd mix of coarseness and worldliness. It’s easy to forget that the Academy Award-winning star of “Precious” has a background in comedy, and this role plays right into her wheelhouse. We end up wishing that she had more screen time with the flirtatious DC Young Fly, who is hilarious as Evan’s sidekick Eric, a man who has the hots for May.
The movie would have been less clunky if it had focused more on the family’s loss of its matriarch and allowed the comic elements to naturally arise as the characters struggle with the new family dynamic. Instead, we get too many slapstick set pieces and extraneous subplots that bog down the proceedings.
Still, the film is not without its nice moments, particularly when Evan and Walter talk at the hospital and when May dispenses advice over a slice of delicious pie. Yet as viewers, we can’t help but want our pie to taste a little better, too.