Christmas movies are pretty much a genre of their own, as every year a film or two comes along to focus on that most wonderful time of the year. Sometimes we get a slice of irreverence that breaks the mold, and sometimes it's just reheated leftovers of the usual holiday banquet that we're served over and over again. While I was hoping Almost Christmas would be the former, it was unequivocally the latter, as an all-star cast and some genuinely enjoyable moments couldn't make up for the extremely formulaic film that it ultimately ends up being.
After the passing of his wife, Walter (Danny Glover) is having thoughts about what to do with his life. With his sons and daughters coming to celebrate the joyous holiday at their familial home, there's a lot of anxious energy in the air. One child is running for Senate (Romany Malco), while another is putting her life back together after a horrible divorce (Gabrielle Union). The youngest of the family (Jessie T. Usher) is a football star in the making, while the eldest (Kimberly Elise) has to deal with a wild card husband (J.B. Smoove). Throw in an aunt with an attitude (Mo'Nique) and you've got a recipe for Christmas disaster. Or do you?
The greatest fault I can attribute to Almost Christmas is that the story is almost non-existent. Surely, there are incidents that happen, and the memory of the dearly departed matriarch of the Meyers family is the connective tissue that really holds everything together. But other than that, there isn't enough cohesion to develop any one story to a desirable length, much less tie them all together into one logical whole. If anything, this feels like a loose remake of The Family Stone, except with less of a presence than that similarly messy film had.
On top of that, the film does hit too many of the safely worn clichés such holiday comedies love to take. With the sons acting as out of control workaholics, and the daughters painted as emotionally scarred by the men that did them wrong, there's a lot of boxes ticked off of the typical checklist for holiday drama. The comedy falls into similarly measured beats, as everything from an emoji laden conversation through the family's grandchildren, an awkward outsider celebrating with the family, and a dance off spanning the generations are all trotted out to make spirits bright.
However, Almost Christmas isn't a complete write off, as the various performances of the cast do elevate the material they're given. Danny Glover is a natural as the father of the family, and there are a couple of moments delivered by the ensemble that land some particularly good laughs -- thanks to comedy MVPs Mo'Nique and JB Smoove's efforts. While it's nothing special when it comes to holiday films, Almost Christmas does have an abundance of heart and family values, and it wears it beautifully on its sleeve. It is a little on the nose, but it works.
It's those factors that make Almost Christmas worth watching, as this level of compassion and moral fiber are what audiences are more than likely looking for with a film like this, and they'll get it in high quantities. It's a fuzzy Christmas sweater that you can wear for a viewing, maybe two, only to put in the closet next to The Family Stone. But for a film that features a plotline involving the perfect family recipe for pie, Almost Christmas seems like a film that was taken out of the oven too early, leaving an underdone product on the table.