Published Nov 19, 2013Too aimless and uneven to be fully endorsed, and yet too intermittently amusing and downright odd to be entirely dismissed, All Is Bright is by no means a conventional Christmas movie. Not that it's as overtly subversive as Bad Santa, but the story of two ostensibly reformed hoods from Quebec trying to go straight by selling Christmas trees in New York sidesteps the maudlin in favour of the rare moments of warmth and levity that can occur in the midst of desperation.
Dennis (a reliably cantankerous Paul Giamatti), whose status as an outsider in his community is hammered home by people insisting on addressing him as "Dénis" despite being an Anglophone, has just been released from prison and heads home to find out why the old adage suggests that you can never do that. He learns that his ex Therese (Amy Landecker) is planning on soon marrying his best friend and old partner in crime, Rene (Paul Rudd), and to make matters worse, she's also told his young daughter that he was dead.
When Dennis gets wind of Rene's plan to head down to Brooklyn and make some money hawking trees, he seizes the opportunity in a placid job market and worms his way into becoming Rene's partner. Once they get there, the film becomes increasingly episodic and meandering, leading to a tense stand-off with rival tree salesmen from Vermont, a series of encounters with a daffy Russian woman (Sally Hawkins) who is house-sitting at a rich dentist's place, and the spectre of Dennis and Rene's awkward love triangle with Therese dangling precariously over their friendship.
There are some elements that seem entirely unnecessary — such as a framing device that keeps returning to Dennis' daughter opening the doors of her advent calendar — and the pacing is awfully deliberate, but the performances are predictably good from this group of actors. Giamatti and Rudd make for an interesting duo in their conflicting personas, and after directing Amy Adams to an Oscar nomination in Junebug, director Phil Morrison now gets a delightfully unhinged and hilarious performance from the scene-stealing Hawkins.
It's the kind of understated indie that would have a hard time making waves in theatres even with this kind of talent, but it might find an audience in homes around the holidays if they're patient enough to appreciate those rare moments where it finally reaches its comic potential. Unfortunately, apparently no one involved with this release was quite enthusiastic enough to include any supplemental material, which is never a good sign.