“Get over here and smell some memories.”
Phil Morrison doesn’t make many movies. His last one, 2005’s Junebug (which was also his first one), was a quirky, oddball affair that featured a breakout performance by Amy Adams. That little indie was very well-received, so it seems odd that writer-director Morrison should have waited a full eight years to deliver up All is Bright (which appears to have started out life called Almost Christmas).
The film is almost as quirky as Junebug but with fewer of its obvious charms. This time around, the enjoyment is in watching its stars Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, and Sally Hawkins interact. All is Bright is another downbeat ode to humanity, and once again Morrison delivers.
Giamatti stars as Dennis, recently paroled from a Quebec prison after serving four years for breaking and entering. Upon his release, he slogs home on foot only to find that his estranged wife Therese and daughter Michi have moved on—Therese has actually told her daughter that Dennis is dead. And, to add insult to insult to injury, Therese has shacked up with Dennis’s ex-partner in crime, Rene (Rudd), who plans to marry her. Despite his “death,” Dennis wants to do right by his daughter regardless, buy her a Christmas present at least, but when he consults his parole officer about a job, he’s met with a discouraging “Good luck. Terrible economy.”
Vowing to go straight, but struggling every step of the way, Dennis bullies Rene into letting him tag along on a gig selling Christmas trees in New York City. Hawkins is on hand as a quirky Russian housekeeper to a pair of rich dentists we never see (the star of The Shape of Water seems to be having a lot of fun with the funny accent). Surprisingly (or not), Olga takes a shine to the woebegone and sticky-fingered Dennis.
Nothing much happens in All is Bright; Dennis and Rene bicker and fight and bicker some more, with Melissa James Gibson’s tight script giving Giamatti and Rudd consistent opportunities to shine. The humor is downplayed—All is Bright is not the rollicking holiday comedy the trailer would have you believe—but our two leads are such compelling character actors I could watch them for days.
Yes, even selling Christmas trees on a street corner in Brooklyn when it’s five below.
(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth