Since his excellent breakthrough independent, “Junebug,” which introduced Amy Adams in 2005, director Phil Morrison hasn’t created a feature. The film is alive with an unusual humanity and exceptionally deep and creatively developed characters, even without the Oscar-nominated and extremely deserving Adams performance. However, his long-awaited follow-up, “Almost Christmas,” which arrived eight years after his successful debut, lacks the spark that made “Junebug” so memorable.
‘Almost Christmas’ Is A Mostly Joyless Misfire at Tribeca
In reality, Morrison’s sophomore film, “Almost Christmas,” about two French Canadian friends struggling to make a living in New York, is a mainly lifeless affair and a major mistake. The film is impassively paced, without a forwards narrative engine, and is nowhere near as enjoyable or humorous as it should be. It also lacks dynamic chemistry between Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti, who are normally effervescent. “Almost Christmas” has no rudder, and is depressingly enervating, save from a few nice passages. Giamatti plays Dennis, a misanthropic low-level ex-con who has just completed a four-year jail sentence. He returns home to Therese (Amy Landecker), who has informed his little daughter that Dennis died of cancer, and discovers that she has fallen in love with his best friend and former crime partner Rene (Rudd). Therese, enraged and speechless, begs Dennis not to tell their daughter that he is still alive. Dennis reluctantly agrees because he doesn’t have many other options. But, without a home or a job, the ex-criminal is frantic to find work and support himself, and his probation officer isn’t able to assist him.
Dennis approaches Rene, punches him in the face, and tells him he owes him for the betrayal (though seemingly the money is more important and the true anger comes later). Rene sends Dennis along to replace his partner in the delivering-Christmas-trees-to-New-York business he runs. After setting up shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Dennis quickly realises that Rene has no idea what he’s doing and that their Christmas tree business is a flop. The two men and their antics could make for a “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”-style romp, if only the movie was as delectable and arch as the book. Dennis confronts Rene, punches him in the face, and tells him he owes him for the betrayal (though seemingly the money is more important and the true anger comes later). Rene sends Dennis along to replace his partner in his Christmas-tree-delivery-to-New-York business. When Dennis and Rene set up shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, it quickly becomes evident that Rene has no idea what he’s doing, and their Christmas tree business is a flop. The two men and their antics could make for a “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”-style romp, if only the film was as tasty and arch as the book.
Instead, ‘Christmas’ is a drab “Waiting For Godot” devoid of humour and bite; two unfortunate men sit around waiting for people to buy Christmas trees from them, with few plot twists to make things interesting. The inoffensive writing simply isn’t compelling enough to sustain these two men waiting for success to come to them, despite the fact that it is presumably a character piece without the need for the melodramatic. They threaten the competition and eventually (sort of) get their act together, although the stakes in the film are incredibly minor. Dennis resolves to buy his musical daughter a piano for Christmas, which is a moving emotional event.
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