I’ve been watching and reviewing all manner of holiday movies for this site for several years now – how did I miss one starring Paul Rudd? And Paul Giamatti? And Sally Hawkins?
Dennis (Giamatti) is fresh out of a 4 year prison sentence and returns home to find that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has moved on, and his young daughter thinks he’s dead (of cancer – “You suffered,” his ex informs him, not entirely without glee). This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. Well, the first part. I think the dead part was a bit of blow. But anyway, he’s not got a home he’s welcome in and no money in his pocket and since it’s only about a month before Christmas, there are no jobs to be had either. “Live off the land,” his parole officer counsels him, super unhelpfully. His only option to earn cash “on the up and up” is by partnering with his friend Rene (Rudd) to take some nice Canadian Christmas trees down to New York City to sell them at inflated prices.
There’s a few problems with this: first, the Christmas tree margin isn’t much; also, earning money the honest way is hard; and lastly, and perhaps more importantly, Rene is the one schtupping is wife. Does it make it better or worse that Rene loves her, plans to marry her?
New York City isn’t super friendly to them, but then again, they aren’t overly friend to it, either. They live like bums on a street corner they’ve claimed for their little tree operation, but as two barely reformed criminals, they don’t exactly have a lot of business savvy. Their only friend is Olga (Sally Hawkins) who’s barely an upright citizen herself.
Although undoutedly set at Christmas, All Is Bright is lacking in the cheer department. It’s not happy or wholesome or merry or, well, bright. It’s bitter and broken. Dennis is a grumpy, unlikeable guy – perfect for Giamatti who grumbles about looking deranged and unwashed. Rudd, on the other hand, slips easily into the role of charming French-Canadian able to sweet-talk almost anyone into almost anything. But his earring signals something a little douchy, and indeed the films wants and expects us to root for Dennis and boo Rene even though they’ve cast Paul Rudd, America’s Sweetheart, in the role. It’s not the easiest ask.
I’m not sure I really liked this movie. For me, it’s hard to pair the holidays with such cantankerous despair. And their redemption? Not exactly heroic. In fact, I’d say they’ve not only learned very little, but cemented their positions on Santa’s Naughty List. You might find it worth a watch only for the two strong performances, but they’re not enough to save a meandering, aimless script.