My Alternative Xmas Movie Advent Calendar – Dec. 22nd: All Is Bright (2013)

Not gonna lie, keeping all these movies loosely strung together has been tough but also fun. Sticking with murder mysteries can get a little heavy during the holidays, but I’m enjoying the Christmas crime wave we’re on so let’s keep that going. All Is Bright focuses on a pair of crooks but doesn’t involve any dead bodies. 

Directed by Phil Morrison

Screenplay by Melissa James Gibson

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, and Sally Hawkins

A parolee gets out of jail to find that his wife has moved on and told their daughter that he died. He’s got no money, no place to stay, no job, and on top of that, his wife has been seeing his former partner. Desperate to get his life on track in the slightest, he begrudgingly approaches his ex-partner about a job selling Christmas trees. While the two of them obviously have one big issue between them, they agree to work together again and embark on a journey that helps frame the importance of family. 

Phil Morrison hasn’t made a lot of movies and hasn’t made one since this in 2013, but this one has a very unique approach to its charm. The combination of disdain and loyalty between the characters isn’t something you see often, so you know Melissa James Gibson’s screenplay isn’t cut from the traditional holiday cloth. This is a dark comedy, but the humor is rooted in family. It’s not the kind of humor I expected considering the cast, but it was cute in its own special way. 

Paul Giamatti is great in the lead as Dennis, the shit-outta-luck parolee. His understated, boiling intensity tells the story in a way that allows you to sympathize with him and dislike him at the same time. The desperation pours out of him in just the right amount. Paul Rudd stars opposite as Rene and this was a much scummier role than we’re accustomed to from him. His natural charm works its way through because…well…it’s Paul Rudd but it’s rare to see him be anything less than the hero type. He and Giamatti have moments where they should be fantastic together as a pair of Quebecers in New York trying to sell Christmas trees with a bare-bones approach, but they often fall a little flat. There’s enough there to make it work between them in terms of pushing things along, but the boyish innocence that’s often Rudd’s calling card doesn’t play so well given his character. 

Sally Hawkins is fantastic and she has a quirky relationship with Giamatti. They’re very good together but you never really get the payoff you’d like from it. It’s set up as a new love angle but it never quite makes it there. The film does have a positive feel on the back end but it also ends a bit abruptly. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find another Xmas movie like this one. Even though it wasn’t really what I was expecting, it was cute and had a very distinct personality. You can watch All Is Bright on Amazon Prime Video right now or rent it through video-on-demand services.

Happy Holidays and don’t forget the tree!

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