By KIMBERLY GRANT
Special to the South Florida Times
It’s Christmas! Well, not really. Judging by the store decorations and the Hallmark Channel, Christmas is here. I guess, commercially, Thanksgiving doesn’t exist anymore, because it’s become a bridge holiday between Halloween and Christmas so that retailers can start making holiday dollars. After all, shoppers don’t buy Thanksgiving gifts. It’s sad to think that a holiday steeped in familial traditions and the spirit of thankfulness has been negated for not making money. So, a Christmas film coming out in early November would seem to tragically keep with this theme. But, Almost Christmas is so good, I can forgive its super early arrival.
In writer/director David E. Talbert’s Almost Christmas, patriarch Walter Meyers (played by Danny Glover) tries to enjoy his family’s first Christmas after the passing of his wife Grace (Rachel Kylian). Grace leaves behind their four children: Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), Christian (Romany Malco), Rachel (Gabrielle Union), and Evan (Jessie T. Usher). All Walter wants this Christmas is for all of his grown children to spend the week of Christmas in harmony. Unfortunately, his kids arrive to their childhood home with their own baggage. And, I’m not talking about luggage.
Cheryl’s husband Lonnie (J.B. Smoove) has a wandering everything and decides to let himself wander with grocery store clerk Jasmine (Keri Hilson). Christian is in the full swing of his campaign for a Congressional seat, neglecting his wife Sonja (Nicole Ari Parker) and their two children: Cameron (Alkoya Brunson) and Dee (Marley Taylor). His campaign manager, Brooks (John Michael Higgins), tagging along for the holiday doesn’t help things either.
Recently divorced Rachel, who’s changed her major in college again, is struggling as a single mother to raise Niya (Nadej K. Bailey). Conversely, Niya is hard at work trying to get Rachel to relax a little and allow hot neighbor Malachi (Omar Epps) to sweep her off of her feet. Lastly, little brother Evan has finally recovered from shoulder surgery and is ready to take the football field as a star player for Gantt University. Unfortunately, Evan has a prescription pain killer habit he uses to cope with his mother’s death.
During this year’s American Black Film Festival’s panel for Almost Christmas, Talbert said about the film: “I love laughing. Even if I do drama, there will be some comedy.”
Now, this seems like a serious family drama. But, in the hands of Talbert and his cast, it’s one of the funniest Christmas movies and poised to become a classic. I would classify Almost Christmas with Four Christmases and (my family’s all-time favorite) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Like both of these films, Almost Christmas has the family dysfunction that we can all relate to. It’s got some surprising moments that keep the story interesting. And, most of all, it has Mo’Nique as Aunt May.
Aunt May really makes Almost Christmas. She is classic Mo’Nique. What Talbert would deem “some comedy,” most people would call constant comedy. Aunt May’s brand of foul- mouthed love is reminiscent of a younger Madea, if she’d been a celebrated background singer and didn’t carry a gun. Although, it seems like, since Precious, many people have pigeon-holed Mo’Nique as a serious actress, but her roots are deep in comedy. And, it pays off in Almost Christmas. Mo’Nique basically steals the show. By the way, make sure to stay for the end credits to get more Mo’Nique and her sharp, yet witty tongue.
Other actors, who made cameos in the film, include singer Monica as a waitress and Gregory Alan Williams as Pastor Browning. Many readers would recognize Williams as slimy Uncle Mack McCready on OWN’s Greenleaf. Because he’s so good at being bad in Green- leaf, it’s hard to see Williams as anything but the villain.
Annoyance with being commercially inundated aside, Almost Christmas is quite a gem and is coming right in time to give the spirit a boost after last week’s shocking Election Night. It’s a great comedy film that serves as the perfect antidote. It will remind you of your family and its holiday traditions. It will even make you nostalgic for your annoying siblings. And, since we’re so close to Christmas, it will make a great outing at the movie theater now and then.