For some of us, the holidays are a great time to not only gather with the loved ones, but to delight in the festive themed entertainment that the season has to offer – be it via songs/carols, television shows or films. And the new Will Packer (Ride Along, This Christmas) produced, David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) written/directed ALMOST CHRISTMAS is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the latter medium.
“Almost Christmas” tells the story of a widower named Walter Meyer (Danny Glover) who brings his four children – Rachel, Cheryl, Christian, and Evan – together at the family home for the first Christmas holiday since his wife’s passing. Knowing that there is some tension when the crew gathers, especially amongst Rachel (Gabrielle Union) and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), Walter has hope that he can re-create the Christmas magic – via his late wife’s coveted recipes and a little help from his quick-witted sister-in law May (Monique) – that has previously filled his home. What the patriarch doesn’t factor in are the discord and hidden secrets that almost destroy the chances everyone has of getting along during the five-day holiday break.
With an all-star cast that includes the aforementioned, as well as Romany Malco (Christian), JB Smoove (Cheryl’s husband Lonnie), Jessie T. Usher (Evan) and Omar Epps (as Rachel’s admirer Malachi), their chemistry worked well on-screen and gave off authentic, and comical, family dynamic. I do believe, however, that Nicole Ari Parker was really underused as Christian’s wife Sonya.
And the young people who portrayed the grandchildren – Nadej Bailey, Alkoya Brunson, and Marley Taylor – are adorbs and little comedic acting gems in the making. Also cool were the cameos from the legendary Gladys Knight and songbird Keri Hilson, who did a fine job as the unwitting, vixen Jasmine – a character that brings much drama, to say the least, to the Meyer’s home.
Although the film is a bit formulaic – the requisite fighting siblings, especially the rivaling sisters, the tragic undertone, the unrequited (maybe) love story – it is extremely entertaining, credited in part to Monique’s outrageous and spot-on humor. Yeah, she was given a script, but Mr. Talbert must’ve added, “Make it do what ‘YOU’ do!”
One thing I dislike doesn’t have as much to do with the movie, as it does the traditional Hollywood trope to cast curvy/heavier women as older characters. I would have very much enjoyed the hilarious and engaging Monique as one of Glover’s daughters – a la Kimberly Elise or Gabrielle Union – rather than his sister-in-law, whose character I estimated to be at least seven years younger than his. And who can forget the time the plus size beauty was cast as Countess Vaughn’s mother in “The Parkers,” when in reality she is only eleven years older than Vaughn.
Even with the predictability, a descriptor I also used in my review of Talbert’s “Baggage Claim,” the movie is engaging and fun – with vibes reminiscent of Soul Food, This Christmas and Best Man Holiday. Unlike “Baggage Claim,” which I believed was funny but mostly forgettable, I am looking forward to watching this film again, and adding it to my holiday film collection.
With a 1:52 minute running time, and a PG-13 rating, the movie is a solid comedic pick for the pre-teen and up audience at your next family gathering. ALMOST CHRISTMAS is out in theaters nationwide today, November 11.
Until next thought, Thomasena