Mo'Nique, Kimberly Elise, Gabrielle Union
I am a sucker for holiday-themed features, good or bad. Fortunately, Almost Christmas is leagues more appealing than last year’s Love the Coopers (I had to look up the name, as all I could remember was its unlikability).
After the passing of its matriarch, a family headed by Walter (Danny Glover) attempts to put aside its grievances and have a Christmas like mother would have wanted. But sisters—snarky, type-A Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) and single mom Rachel (Gabrielle Union)—start fighting before they say hello, and oldest son Malachi (Romany Falco, who always reminds me that, once upon a time, Showtime’s “Weeds” was good) is too caught up in his congressional campaign to care. (When is this election? The following November?) Meanwhile, oops-child Evan (Jessie T. Usher) is an athlete struggling with pills and pain management. Fortunately, J.B. Smoove and Academy Award winner Mo’Nique also show up as Cheryl’s former basketball player hubby and the late Grace’s backup-singer sister, respectively; their comic relief is key.
The movie is filled with gut-busting laughs in its first half-hour, but four episodes in a row of any sitcom can wear thin. At two hours, Almost Christmas’ sitcom-ishness overwhelms its early charm without curdling its humorous sincerity. Playwright David E. Talbert’s third movie is certainly better than its immediate predecessor, Baggage Claim (his first feature, First Sunday, still offers some chuckles). If this home-for-the-holidays feature—more banal than bad, more pleasant than not—is the worst gift moviegoers open, it will be a better year than most.