I saw Almost Christmas on the evening before Election Day. At the time, it cured my anxieties for a fast-paced two hours, absorbing me in its easy charms and stoking my Christmas junkie tendencies. The joy of a relaxed and connected ensemble is never lost on this viewer, and this assemblage is delightful. A film like Almost Christmas is exactly the kind of candy I devour no matter if it elevates above schmaltz or has any nutritional value (but for me, this film has its share). On that night, it comforted me.
But after the fallout of this week, it’s hard to discuss its pure sentiment and reconcile its warm optimism with so much fear and communicative dissonance in the country. The film’s uncomplicated resolutions and the relief they bring seem so far away considering how its family rises above its disagreements while so many real ones are being ripped apart. Maybe I should have cherished the feeling more – especially considering the film depicts a family that Trump’s America seeks to demonize and rob of its humanity.
In an opening sequence that lowkey chases Up in its emotional build, the family history is established for the audience until the passing of its saintly matriarch. Led by Danny Glover’s widower, this is a family in transition. Losing the glue that held them together (and possibly the family home, which the widower secretly prepares to sell) means they might have to actually deal with their problems. While the familiar disturbances at play aren’t as charged with fear as our national canvas, the petty disagreements and long-held grudges play out believably and without pretension thanks to this warm ensemble.
Chief among them is Mo’Nique’s boozy, brash Aunt May. In a performance as broadly comic as it is genuinely felt, the Oscar-winning actress provides a raucous center of gravity while also being the film’s emotional compass. Kimberly Elise and Gabrielle Union’s bickering sisters alternate between sharp wit and authentic connection, neither sacrificing character for the loonier demands the comedy calls for. The male ensemble gets to have less big moments to work with in comparison to the female cast members, though Jessie T. Usher as the youngest brother finds deep emotion in some of the film’s more Hallmark tinged moments.
With some moments of clunky plotting and character establishment (Almost is unfortunately a film where people say such things as “You know you and your wife always were my best friends”), the film is nonetheless a satisfying entertainment. Almost Christmas may not offer more than the sum of its parts, but with ample laughs and emotional simplicity make for many delightful pieces worth savoring.