Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a comedy about the holidays, All Is Bright, now available On Demand.
Something about the holidays brings out the best and worst in people. No matter what may be happening in someone’s life, the excitement of the season exaggerates the emotions. Whatever we may experience during other months, we seem to feel everything more as we eagerly await the end-of-year celebrations.
The comedy All Is Bright reminds us of the highs and lows of this time of year in a gentle story of two friends who try to work out the kinks in their lives by selling Christmas trees. Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd — in portrayals that reconfirm why we enjoy them on screen — each bring their comfortable collections of mannerisms to play men who try to strike gold by selling greens on the streets of the city. Even though the film isn’t sure how far to extend the absurdity of the situations, its heart is in the right place. And, despite a third act that stretches belief, this comedy from director Phil Morrison is a pleasant way to get ready for the holidays.
Giamatti, who communicates more with his eyes than many actors do with their voices, plays a man who gets released from prison with the hopes of reuniting with his estranged wife and daughter. But he soon learns that she is in a relationship with Rudd and has told their daughter that, instead of being incarcerated, Giamatti died of cancer. Without hope to restart his life, or prospects for employment, he decides to join Rudd on a trip to New York City to sell trees. What better way to earn enough money to buy the piano his daughter has always wanted?
With this slightly unbelievable premise — punctuated by an eventful drive to Brooklyn — Giamatti and Rudd set up shop on a piece of street in Greenpoint. Life in the neighborhood is far from dull as they encounter competing tree sellers, colorful characters, and only a few people actually interested in trees. Only when Sally Hawkins shows up as an over-the-top immigrant with a thick Russian accent does Giamatti begin to hope for a happy ending.
What makes the film endearing — despite its urge to jump into sitcom sensibility — is the grounded acting by the leads. Because we know these performers, we settle into savoring the predictable subtleties of their work. And because they are each so inventive, they surprise us with moments of spontaneous sincerity. Giamatti, no matter how outrageous his efforts to secure the piano may become, never lets us forget that he is doing all this for the right reasons. Rudd demonstrates again what he can accomplish when not hampered by the superficialities of a big comedy script and Hawkins, while offering a less than consistent accent, is so engaging that we forgive how silly she can sound.
Ultimately, we measure any holiday film by the warm feelings the final reel can generate. No matter the bumps in the plot, we tend to forgive any movie that successfully arrives at its destination. All is Bright may take a detour now and then but it never forgets that, on Christmas Day, we usually have just one place we want to wake up.
Film Nutritional Value
All Is Bright
* Content: Medium. The premise, of two men who try to fix their lives by selling Christmas trees in New York City, offers a touching holiday message.
* Entertainment: High. Despite a temptation to inject sitcom situations into the narrative, the performances by Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd ground the film.
* Message: Medium. As entertaining as this film is, it also points out the challenges that people face when trying to reinvent their lives.
* Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to experience a holiday film can remind us of the warmth of the season.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. While this is not a film that will generate significant conversation, it is great fun. But it’s not a film for the whole family.
(All Is Bright is rated R for “language and brief nudity.” The film runs 107 minutes.)
3-1/2 Popcorn Buckets