Film Review: All Is Bright

Bah, humbug!

Dennis (Paul Giamatti) has just gotten out of a Canadian jail and is desperate to reunite with his wife (Amy Landecker) and little girl (Tatyana Richaud). Christmas is coming but wife-y has no interest in this hapless ex-con re-entering their lives, especially as she has taken up with Dennis' former partner in crime, Rene (Paul Rudd), a total jerk who infuriatingly escaped the jug. Frantic to get back in their good graces and buy a nice present for his daughter, Dennis partners up with Rene on a trip to New York to sell Christmas trees.

Once a year, they descend on Manhattan, those mysterious, displaced-looking, very rural-seeming guys who peddle pine for the holidays on street corners. If you've ever wondered about their lives, screenwriter Melissa James Gibson and director Phil Morrison try to answer that question. Unconvincingly and condescendingly. Paul Giamatti produced the film, and although he appears scruffy here and unappetizingly loser-ish in the extreme, it’s still something of a vanity project. Actors have traditionally loved casting themselves as ultimately suffering martyrs (Remember Brando in One-Eyed Jacks? Tom Hanks in Cast Away? Virtually the entire careers of Emil Jannings and Paul Muni?) and here Giamatti gets to run the beleaguered gamut.

The entire enterprise feels as phony as a fake Yule tree, from the stash of cash the men accrue with much effort (and which, of course, will be "ironically" stolen) to that fatherless little girl, a Hallmark card blonde angel waiting sadly yet patiently for her holiday swag. The outlandish climax, involving a pilfered grand piano, is unutterably ridiculous. But it does afford Giamatti the chance to look wistfully on his former family bonding with fatuous Rene, the new, highly undeserving man in their lives; he’s a male Stella Dallas with echoes of John Wayne at the poignant, Eternal Outsider end of The Searchers.

I usually love Giamatti's work, so I guess I will give him a pass this time around for this exercise in poor-pitiful-me self-indulgence. The tirelessly employed Rudd again tries to cover up his cherubic handsomeness with a rotten tooth and grating Canuck accent, playing an unredeemable ass who just wears your patience. Another misfire is Sally Hawkins as a Russian maid the two men unconvincingly befriend in the city; she attacks the Slavic tones of her role like a pit bull with a juicy leg. Seemingly every Christmas carol ever written pops up on the soundtrack in wistful, supposedly heart-tugging arrangements which will only have the effect of bringing out the Scrooge in you.