Almost Christmas

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 11, 2016

Mo'Nique and D.C. Young Fly star in 'Almost Christmas'
Mo'Nique and D.C. Young Fly star in 'Almost Christmas'   

In "Almost Christmas," the Meyers family prepares for the first yuletide since their beloved matriarch passed away. In a series of comic sequences, they face old rivalries and confront current demons as they attempt to deal with the grief of a holiday without their mother.

Retired automotive engineer and entrepreneur Walter (the beloved Danny Glover) has made a good life for his family, but he just can't imagine this continuing without his dearly departed wife. So he has decided to sell his big, beautiful home in the lovely suburbs of Birmingham. But first, he must get through the holiday with his feisty family who isn't going to be happy when they hear about his decision. And he must try to re-create Christmas dinner (especially the sweet potato pie) without his wife's traditional holiday recipes. (Glover is such a generous actor that he improves the performances of those around him. Still, no one would call this his finest role.)

In comes the family. Four adult siblings -- two grief stricken men (Romany Malco & Jessie Usher) and two ever-battling women (Kimberly Elise & Gabrielle Union) -- a slew of adorable grandkids obsessed with social media, an adulterous husband (J. B. Smoove), a fish-out-of-water white dude (John Michael Higgins), the powerhouse comic relief Mo'Nique as Aunt May and her horny young admirer (DC Young Fly).

In the five days leading up to Christmas, each of the siblings will have the opportunity to play out a slapstick-silly and super sentimental subplot. The men pump up the pathos in their plotlines: Christian (Malco) must weigh funding his political election with preserving his mother's values of social welfare, as Evan (Usher) drowns his grief in an addiction to prescription pain killers. While the women learn generosity and forgiveness: Rachel (Union) lets go of a grudge from high school and rekindles a romance, as Cheryl (Elise) comes to terms with the imperfections of her marriage.

This is accomplished through a series of random comic sequences. Many of these are outlandish and rely on the fact that the audience shares the exact same values as the film's family.

For instance, Aunt May, in her years as a backup singer for some of the biggest name in the music business -- Chaka Khan, David Bowie -- has experienced a wide variety of multicultural foods that are a blend of unique textures and flavors. When she generously prepares a number of these dishes for the family, the culinary close-minded Meyers family chooses to order pizza. But not until after an epic display of bad parenting, where Cheryl attempts to force feed some food to her son without trying any of it herself. Perhaps those who are afraid of new experiences, and who had overbearing mothers, will find this hilarious.

The most substantial plotline in the film revolves around the rivalry between Cheryl and Rachel. Cheryl is judgmental of Rachel's divorce, and accuses her of not being able to make the marriage work. So when Rachel discovers that Cheryl's charmingly smarmy husband Lonnie (Smoove) is playing around with a local grocery clerk, she plots to embarrass her sister by inviting the other woman to Christmas dinner.

This is a genuinely funny sequence of events that leads to a genuinely heartfelt conclusion, but not without a sufficiently over-the-top episode with a shot gun. Unfortunately, this plotline is a small part of the overall movie.

There are some nice performances from some talented and underutilized actors. (Watch for a cameo from Gladys Knight.) And there are some character parts that could be a whole lot funnier if they were better integrated into a tighter plot. (John Michael Higgins as Brooks, the token white guy, has potential that never comes through.)

In the end, the filmmakers' poor choices are highlighted in the outtakes shown during the credits, featuring some of the best one-liners and most buoyant, improvisational comedy of the movie.