Here’s a film where the creative poverty is evident right in the title. When it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, this seasonal dramedy was called Almost Christmas—technically accurate, in that it does take place in the days leading up to Christmas, but, hell, so does Die Hard. Having belatedly realized that they were flirting with false advertising, the filmmakers apparently sat in a room tossing out lines from various Christmas carols until they found one that was sufficiently innocuous. And so, years from now, people will be struggling to remember whether that movie they never saw starring Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd was called Let Nothing You Dismay or To Face Unafraid or maybe Busy Sidewalks.
Very little is actually bright for Giamatti’s just-paroled career criminal, who returns home following his four-year stretch to find that his wife (Amy Landecker) has told their young daughter (Tatyana Richaud) that he died of cancer. She’s also taken up with Rudd, his former partner, who’s gone straight and now earns his living driving a truck. Figuring he’s owed, Giamatti shoves his way into Rudd’s plan to buy some cheap Christmas trees in Québec, where they live, and spend the first few weeks of December selling them at a gigantic markup in New York City, living in a tiny trailer hitched to the truck. That’s it, pretty much: two cranky guys in love with the same absent woman (and her generically cute kid), trading barbs and wisecracks while trying to peddle trees to fast-walking New Yorkers on a nondescript Brooklyn block.
Directed by Phil Morrison (Junebug) from a lackluster script by Melissa James Gibson, All Is Bright coasts entirely on the formidable talent of its cast, though Giamatti merely offers another variation on the irascible persona he’s been cultivating since Sideways, while Rudd is ultimately defeated by his character’s shapelessness. The film does spring to occasional life starting about halfway through, when Giamatti is befriended, for no discernible reason, by a Russian-immigrant maid who buys a tree for her employers; British actress Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) provides some much-needed comic energy, spitting out fractured English in a broad accent. (As Giamatti starts to light a cigarette: “Not got much, no? No wife, no kid, no job. You should keep lungs, yeah?”) When she’s offscreen, however, the wheels go back to spinning, and a late-breaking plot twist that sends the boys back to thieving culminates in schmaltz. All in all, you’re probably better off holding out for a movie called Our Gay Apparel.