‘Almost Christmas’ more than almost good

T. A. MORELAND | 11/17/2016, midnight
It’s a bittersweet time. Christmas approaches. Walter (Danny Glover), a retired auto repair shop owner, tries his best to make ...
Cast of "Almost Christmas" Universal Pictures

It’s a bittersweet time. Christmas approaches. Walter (Danny Glover), a retired auto repair shop owner, tries his best to make the most of the holiday season. But it’s hard. He has lost the love of his life, his wife and the mother of his four children, his beloved Grace (Rachel Kylian). But things are not completely somber because four of his children, Rachel (Gabrielle Union), Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), Christian (Romany Malco) and Evan (Jessie Usher), are coming home.

The kids are adults with their own array of issues. Rachel and Cheryl never grew out of their sisterly rivalry. Also, Rachel is trying to make it through law school as a divorced mother of a precocious daughter, Niya (Nádej Bailey). Cheryl’s husband (J.B. Smoove) is an ex-NBA player with a wandering eye who constantly relives a winning shot he made in an NBA championship game. Christian, married with two kids, is preoccupied with running for Congress. Then there’s Walter and Grace’s later-in-life ‘oops’ baby, Evan, who is a college football star recovering from an injury.

Also dropping in is Aunt May, a well-traveled backup vocalist for some of the most famous singers from the ’80s.

“Almost Christmas” shares with viewers the five days of this family’s Christmas get-together. Just from the abbreviated plot summary above you can see that this is a very busy storyline. Half the stuff going on, I didn’t even include. That’s the problem—it’s too much. With a large cast and each individual dealing with multiple issues, it’s sort of a Grand Central Station onscreen.

The film features a successful, educated upper-middle class Black family, yet the writer David E. Talbert embraces standard Hollywood African-American gathering must-haves: they have to do a partially or fully choreographed dance; there has to be fisticuffs; and a gun has to be pulled.

Maybe my experiences are atypical, but I have been to hundreds of Black people social events and don’t recall a single fight, and no guns have ever been displayed. However, I have to admit that a few dance lines have broken out!

The film’s humor is extremely predictable and is seen coming minutes before it happens, such as when Cheryl’s husband takes a tumble after he climbs on the roof to fix the blinking Santa Claus. And it strays a bit from reality, such as the fact that Christian is in the middle of a run for Congress. As a political junkie, I can say with certainty that there are no congressional elections or primaries near Christmas.

The film does shine in a couple of ways, especially in the flashbacks of Walter and Grace’s time together. There is a deep and undeniable love between the two that is obvious from the characters’ glances, making words unnecessary.

This is an outstanding cast. It is good to see Glover, Union and Elise among others on the screen. They, individually and as a group, just get it done. Great casting of Bailey as Union’s daughter as they have a very strong resemblance. (Speaking of Glover, he has involvement in no less than six films between now and the end of next year!)

As to our cast diversity rating, “Almost Christmas” gets a “B.” Of course, the cast is primarily African-American with a few white supporting actors, like John Michael Higgins, who plays Christian’s campaign manager. There are no Hispanics or Asians in notable roles.

So what’s the verdict on the film? It ekes out our highest rating, See It! The overall entertainment value, combined with a very strong cast, make it worth a trip to the theater. It’s about two hours long and is rated PG-13 (for suggestive material, drug content and language).