Star Rating:

Almost Christmas

Director: David E. Talbert

Actors: Danny Glover, Jessie T. Usher, Mo'Nique, Gabrielle Union

Release Date: Friday 25th November 2016

Genre(s): Drama, Factual

Running time: 111 minutes

This year is the first widower Walter (Glover) will have without his wife and all his kids descend on the Alabama family home five days before Christmas to help him through it. Christian (the ageless Malco) is running for Congress and has campaign manager Brooks (Higgins) is in tow despite promising not to work over the holidays; single mum and law student Rachel (Gabriel Union) fends off the advances of next door neighbour Malachy (Omar Epps); and teenage football hero Evan (Jessie T. Usher) is addicted to pain killers after a shoulder injury. That's more than enough to be getting on but writer-director David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) gives with the holly.

There's static between Rachel and older sister Cheryl (Kimberley Elise), whose husband Lonnie (J.B Smoove) is a wacky former basketball player; backing singer Aunt May (Mo'Nique) promises to do the cooking despite her lack of talents in the kitchen; Walter is toying with secretly selling the house; and he's going to be incensed when he learns Christian plans to rezone the same area where Walter volunteers at a shelter, something he always did with his wife.

I like a good Christmas movie, me. But they can be too syrupy, obvious and formulaic for their own good. Almost Christmas is the latest one to fall foul of cutesy. Glover has been struggling to get over the death of his saintly wife (a nice opening montage documents their love from 1971 to today) but attempts to move on: he is determined to bake the same sweet potato pie his wife always baked at this time of year … if only he can find the damn recipe, a clumsy metaphor for getting the ingredients of the family right. Urgh.

There's the inevitable National Lampoons snafu with electric decorations, there's getting locked outside in underwear/getting caught in a compromising position in front of a love interest scenario, there's the Wisdom Of Children moment, and every conversation works its way around to the late mum/wife (and the sad music that accompanies it). Talbert isn't shy about working in some artificial drama too with the likeable Lonnie taking more than a shine to the very flirty cashier at the supermarket, which will prove disastrous when the cashier (Keri Hilson) turns up for dinner on Christmas day.

It's not all bad. That Christmas dinner is fun and the performances are solid, but in juggling all these wafer-thin subplots, and its veering from pathos to humour and back again willy-nilly, Almost Christmas ends up doing nothing really. The snow doesn't stick.