DVD Review - Almost Christmas

The past couple of years has seen nostalgia for things in the 1980's. Titles like It Follows and Stranger Things are throwbacks or odes to movies from 30 years ago. Hollywood has properly run through the 50's, 60's and 70's, but now we're starting to see the 90's as the new target. Remakes and reboots of properties from the 90's are ramping up. Last year, Billie Woodruff's The Perfect Match was basically a remake of Boomerang (1992). This movie is essentially a remake of Soul Food (1997). The problem with Woodruff's fillm was that he didn't have a cast who could live up to the same romance and comedy of that Eddie Murphy classic. Here, the problem isn't the cast. Writer-director David E. Talbert has a fantastic cast. His script and his overall vision are simply lame in a lot of ways.

There are obviously lots of movies about families coming together for the holidays, specifically adult children coming together for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Recently, there have been The Family Stone (2005), Four Christmases (2008) and This Is Where I Leave You (2014), but Talbert's film is rather blatantly a rip-off of Soul Food. It is practically a beat-for-beat copy of that now 20-year-old film, which would have been fine, if Talbert had decided to do something more with it.

Danny Glover (The Color Purple and Lethal Weapon) stars as Walter Meyers, a middle to upper-middle class, black man who's now a septuagenarian, retired and recently widowed. We see the loss of his wife in the same way as in Pixar's Up. In fact, he's about to celebrate his first Christmas without his wife, Grace. It's five days until the holiday and the movie charts the day-by-day ending on Christmas. He's invited his four, adult children and their families over to their very nice home, presumably in the suburbs of Atlanta.

Obviously, the adult children are going to come together and have issues or drama. Obviously, there are going to be fights. Where Talbert drops the ball is in the issues themselves. Because Walter's wife has just died, grief is clearly an issue that everyone has to handle and some differently than others. That's a no-brainer, but the individual issues that he doles out to each of the four children shouldn't be no-brainers or as blasé as they are, issues that are mostly hackneyed.

Gabrielle Union plays Rachel, a single mom who has trouble finding or keeping a man. If you've seen Union in her TV series Being Mary Jane or any number of other things, then you know this is a rather blasé character for her to play.

Kimberly Elise plays the older sister Cheryl, a woman married to a philandering husband. If you've seen Elise in her various Tyler Perry films like Diary of a Mad Black Woman, then you know this is another hackneyed character for her to play.

Jessie T. Usher plays Evan, the youngest brother who is a troubled, professional athlete. If you've seen Usher's TV series Survivor's Remorse, then you know this is something that he's done before. It's practically typecasting here. It would have been different, if instead of a pill-popper, Talbert made his character gay.

Romany Malco plays Christian, the older brother who is married with kids and is a politician running for office. He's the only one who isn't typecast for the most part. This role is slightly different for Malco. It's simply a shame that more isn't done with him. Besides being at the dinner table a couple of times, he's only in two scenes or so that are about his character.

Instead, Talbert wastes time on lame comedy bits like a rooftop Santa gag or Rachel getting stuck in a window that was simply embarrassing and not in a good way. Talbert wastes time when he should be developing the characters more. For example, Rachel is constantly approached by a guy who lived next door named Malachi, played by Omar Epps. Apparently, Rachel and Malachi dated in high school but broke up. Instead of giving the two of them plausible scenes where they reacquaint themselves, Talbert turns Malachi into a Manic Pixie Dream Boy where you don't get a sense of his own life. He exists merely to prop up Rachel.

Oscar-winner Mo'Nique (Precious and Bessie) co-stars as Aunt May and she is the best thing about this film. She's funny, smart and so far ahead of everyone. When she is on-screen, this movie is great and has potential. When she's not on-screen, the movie is dull and drags. She is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. She is a breath of fresh air. The film's greatest sin is that there is so little of her and that she's not involved with every story line.

Rated PG-13 for drug content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.


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