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Almost Christmas

Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review


Anchor Bay; 107 minutes

Director: Phil Morrison


Written by on April 30, 2013 




Almost Christmas, the long-awaited second feature film Phil Morrison (Junebug) is an unexpected buddy comedy. Just released from a four years in Quebec jail, anglophone Dennis (Paul Giamatti) returns home to his wife Therese (Amy Landecker). The only problem is Dennis can’t stay in the house, as Therese has told their four-year-old daughter he’s dead. She’s started dating Rene (Paul Rudd), a once criminal who unlike Dennis has gone legit; he’s heading down to New York City to sell authentic Canadian Christmas trees.

Almost Christmas’ flaws are at a script level. It never quite achieves the tone it aspires to, being simultaneously funny and awkward, all while life continually kicks Dennis and Rene. Morrison, a director known for the clean simplicity of his images in his commercial work, isn’t fully in command of Melissa James Gibson’s script; a Christmas movie with only a minor Christmas miracle. The New York City scenes are peppered with notes of realism, including some minor colorful characters (notable a local dentist’s maid played by Sally Hawkins, who takes in Dennis). Dennis and Rene are confined to tiny wooden trailer, using the bathroom in a local restaurant, making both friends and enemies. This isn’t a sitcom, nor strangely are these characters that likable. It’s something else, an ambitious film that doesn’t quite work, with a broader focus than it should have.

Giamatti and Rudd are an unlikely duo, with both Rene and Dennis benefiting from each other’s quirks. Perhaps we get too many of these, which the film establishes again and again. Learning the value of hard work, it’s Rene who says, “going legit is a thousand times harder, but at least you don’t go to jail.” This is the notion that best sums up the moral of the story and as outsiders, the Quebec identity serves beneficial in the business enterprise. They are aliens selling Christmas joy from Canada, as Giamatti sneaks into the country illegally (while stealing the boarder guard’s wallet on the way in).

The film has its moments, but they never quite gel into a big pay off. In fact, the pay off contained is somber, strange and unresolved, but perhaps this is fitting. Written by Gibson (the first feature produced by a writer who knows this alien territory well, writing for FX series The Americans), individual scenes come about with an interesting and original tone, however the pace can often slow to a hault. As a whole, Almost Christmas is almost successful and the material may be here for a good film, but in its present form a few things seem just slightly off.


B-







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