Welcome to end-of-year movie releases: early Oscar shots and 'holiday' family flicks. Everyone has their own favorite Christmas movie (mine is Die Hard). Each provides something different, but a very common theme is a ‘coming together’ of estranged family for the holidays - watch The Family Stone or Four Christmases again.
This plot is either best served with a drama or comedy – or even better – a dramedy - to explore the trials of a group of people who may not necessarily like one another to suddenly have to spend a lot of time together, and, work out their differences. Almost Christmas is certainly not original, but again, there’s nothing wrong with predictable as long as it is executed well.
The movie opens by showing us the life and love of Walter Meyers as we see he and his wife, Grace, falling in love, buying a house, and having four children over the course of several years. This provides some quick backstory on the children and house, and how much Walter loves when Grace makes sweet potato pie. It culminates by showing that she has passed, and 10 months later, Walter is alone in the house, contemplating selling it, and preparing to host the family for Christmas for the first time since her passing.
We’re very quickly introduced to all four of the Meyers children as they prep to come home for Christmas. Cheryl is a successfully dentist, married to Lonnie (a former pro basketball player who played most of his time in Croatia). Lonnie is a bit of a sleaze, and Cheryl is really judgmental, especially when it comes to her sister Rachel. Rachel is currently in law school after what seems to be a nasty divorce, and struggling to raise her daughter Niya. She’s currently unwilling or unable to accept help from anyone, and convinced she can do everything herself. Christian is the older son, currently running for congress with the assistance of Brooks, his campaign manager. No, I don't know why he's campaigning five days before Christmas, as that doesn't really make sense with when elections take place, but, hey - don't think about that too hard. He and his wife, Sonya, are raising their two kids Dee and Cameron, and hoping he’ll be able to put a pause on his campaigning long enough to enjoy Christmas with the family. The youngest son, Evan, is currently in college, and just recently released from injured reserve to play in the bowl game his football team has qualified for, in order to get scouted and drafted into the pros. However, the injury has left him with a large container of pain pills, and a bit of a dependence on them.
Grace's sister May, a backup singer for many famous musical artists (as she continues to tell us) arrives first and is basically around to drink and provide comedy relief when discussing everyone else. Once they all get back to the house, both hijinks and drama ensue. Walter is unable to duplicate Grace’s sweet potato pie recipe. Christian accidentally getting involved in a deal to eliminate the shelter that his parents worked at every Christmas in order to get elected. Evan starts hanging out with his high school friend, who is easily able to get him extra pain pills. Malachi – their next door neighbor, and Rachel’s old flame, shows up to re-romance her. May does some terrible cooking and a lot of drinking. Lonnie almost electrocutes himself while trying to fix a rooftop santa for the kids, and then sleeps with a grocery store checkout girl – who happens to know Rachel, and when Rachel finds out – she invites her to dinner, because Cheryl has been so cruel to her. And finally, they find the tin of recipes that their mother had hidden to make everything for dinner, and Evan forces Walter to admit that he was thinking of selling the house – but don’t worry, it’s a holiday movie, so even after all that drama, it has a happy ending.
Directed by David Talbert, who also did Baggage Claim, which is another predictable movie that I enjoyed, this movie is certainly directed well enough. I think his strength is letting the actors go – and giving them the freedom to play off one another. Everyone in this seems to be a skilled improviser and have a good time working together. The true proof of this is the outtakes over the end credits- always the best part of a comedy – which is really Mo’Nique making fun of the other actors. Perfect.
- Danny Glover is too old for this shit, and in fact, says that he’s too old for this shit in this movie. To be honest, I’m not sure I even remember a time when Danny Glover wasn’t too old for this shit. He’s wonderful in this, determined to get his family to tolerate each other for five days, sad at the loss of his wife, and hilarious when trying to bake. Thank goodness for Danny Glover.
- Mo’Nique plays Aunt May, and really – it’s just an excuse for Mo’Nique to be Mo’Nique and improvise insults about the rest of the group. She’s really funny, and I enjoyed her continuously bringing up stories from different stars she toured with.
- Kimberly Elise plays Cheryl, and does a great job of being stubborn, stoic, oblivious to Lonnie, and all-around cruelly judgmental to Rachel. I’m not sure what caused that, we never really get an explanation for why they are so terrible to one another.
- Romany Malco plays Christian, and seems perfect for the slick politician role. I also appreciated the quiet moments he had when he questioned whether he was morally capable of doing what would be expected of him.
- Gabrielle Union plays Rachel, and she’s actually got the most to do, range-wise. She plays the super angry and bitter well, but also shows how much hurt she has too. Her daughter has to finally let her know that she can accept help from time to time, and the scene where she and Cheryl finally make up is touching and funny – but still, no real reason why they were so antagonistic.
- Jessie T. Usher plays Evan, and he’s way more entertaining in this than he was in Independence Day Resurgence. He’s young and loud and all big personality in this. As the youngest of the four kids, he feels a bit like constantly having to prove he’s wanted, and overreacts when he finds out Walter wants to sell the house, but he’s also a bit lost because he was very close to his mother.
- J.B. Smoove plays Lonnie, Cheryl’s horrible husband, and I have always found him to be a small-dose person for me, I really find him annoying when he’s more than a bit player. And since he’s part of the main cast here, it’s really too much of him. He certainly does a really good job as the annoying cheating husband.
- Nicole Ari Parker plays Sonya, Christian’s wife, and knowing how funny she can be from Real Husbands of Hollywood – it’s a shame she didn’t get more to do in this, but she’s pretty funny in the scenes she has.
- Omar Epps plays Malachi, the neighbor who is still into Rachel. There are a couple of scenes where his mother yells some humorous things at him while he’s talking to Rachel, and I honestly could have used a bit more of that. He’s charming and fun, and I did enjoy that he never really lets Rachel get away with the attitude, he gives it back as he gets it.
- John Michael Higgins plays Brooks – and honestly, knowing how skilled he is at improv comedy, I wanted more outtakes with him. He’s humorously clueless in this – something he does really well.
- D.C. Young Fly from Wild’n Out plays Eric, Evan’s pill-supplying buddy. And honestly, it shouldn’t have been funny, but I cracked up when he kept hitting on Aunt May.
- Keri Hilson plays Jasmine, the grocery store clerk. She actually does a pretty great job in thinking that Lonnie is really into her and that he’s in town to visit his ‘grandmother’ Cheryl. Once she shows up to dinner, she’s surprised to find out he’s there too, and that he’s actually married.
- The three kids are also pretty funny in this, played by Nadej Bailey, Alkoya Brunson, and Marley Taylor.
Overall, like I said – it’s not original at all, and yes, it’s very predictable, but everyone in it does a fine job, and it’s a perfectly pleasing way to spend a couple of hours if you want something Christmas themed. I couldn’t help but start tearing up when Walter finally nails the sweet potato pie recipe at the end. Spoiler alert – he nails the pie at the end.
6 out of 10; gained points for Malachi’s mom telling Rachel that he’s single. Lost points for just too much J.B. Smoove. Gained points for Danny Glover, because he is awesome.