by George Wolf
You know who’s great? Gladys Knight. Man, what a voice. “Midnight Train to Georgia” has to be one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
What’s that got to do with Almost Christmas? Well, Gladys has two scenes it in and she might as well be Santa, bringing a genuine smile each time. So there’s that.
Filling up the film’s other 110 minutes are the favored devices of writer/director David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim, First Sunday): contrived situations, painful dialog and exaggerated storytelling.
At least his heart’s in the right place: home for the holidays.
Family patriarch Walter Meyers (Danny Glover) is facing his first Christmas season since the loss of his beloved wife, so the whole extended clan comes home to Birmingham 5 days out, and the countdown is on. The cliche countdown.
There will be a backyard football game. There will be a dance routine in the kitchen, and there will be plenty of sudden mood swings with tender music ready to cue the sighs and wistful staring that means we’re remembering Mama.
And yes, Glover will say his line about being too mature for this excrement or something.
There’s veteran talent in this cast (Oscar-winner Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, Omar Epps, John Michael Higgins, Nicole Ari Parker) but Talbert’s filmmaking is so broadly-drawn and obvious his movie earns more groans than chuckles. Everyone sees, hears or walks in on something at exactly the right moment while calling each other by helpful names such as “brother-in-law” (just like at your house) so anyone who came in late can follow who’s who. There are sassy putdowns and sitcom-ready innuendo, plus plenty of notice when it’s time to get serious, like multiple closeups on a bottle of prescription pills…just to make sure we didn’t miss the message that someone is abusing prescription pills.
Almost Christmas plagues a likable cast with storytelling so lazy it gets points for not having a character win the lottery.
Gladys, take me away.