Almost Christmas

Posted on November 10, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Copyright Universal 2016

In “Almost Christmas,” Danny Glover plays Walter, a recent widower who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, trying over and over again to replicate his late wife’s legendary sweet potato pie. What he wants to replicate, of course, is the time when his family was all together, as shown in a heart-tugging, gracefully edited opening credit sequence, with the years melting into each other from 1971 to 2015. A young couple embraces on a mattress on the floor and, as it happens in life, an eye blink later they have three children, and then, as a bit of a late surprise, a fourth. The children are all adults now, coming home for the first Christmas since their mother died, and Walter wants it to be a time of reconnection. For that, he needs the sweet potato pie and it has to be just like hers.

Writer/director David Talbert (“Baggage Claim”) is trying for his own version of a sweet potato pie with this film, mixing in the standard ingredients for a Christmas family gathering comedy/drama movie. So, there are adult siblings with ongoing conflicts, a dad who is spending too much time on work, precocious kids (in this case, happily uploading every element of family dysfunction on social media), church, a guest star (though why you would put Gladys Knight in a film and not let her sing is beyond me), family traditions, a kitchen disaster, secrets to be revealed, a rekindled romance, a busted marriage, high maintenance in-laws, and, of course Christmas meaning and reconciliation magic and a lot of food. In other words, other than running into Gladys Knight, it is pretty much what goes on around the world at Christmas.

Talbert’s sweet potato pie of a movie has the right ingredients, and if they are not always combined just right, it still makes for a treat, with an exceptional cast and enough laughs to keep us going until the exact right moment for some tears.

Walter’s older son is Christian (Romany Malco), a husband and father of two who is running for Congress (none of this storyline makes any sense as Christmas is at least 11 months before the next election and the issue he gets caught up in is municipal, not federal, but okay). Malco is terrific in an unusually understated role. The look on his face as Walter asks him to speak at the homeless shelter his mother was devoted to shows endless tenderness and loss. His wife (an underused Nicole Ari Parker) is mostly there to remind him that he should not take time away from the family for his campaign. The youngest of Walter’s children is Evan (Jessie T. Usher), a college football player being scouted for the NFL draft, hiding an addiction to painkillers.

Their two sisters are Rachel (co-producer Gabrielle Union), a fiercely independent single mom and law student, and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise), a dentist married to a know-it-all former basketball player (J.B. Smoove), who is still a player, if you know what I mean.

Walter’s outspoken sister-in-law, a backup singer named May (Mo’Nique) arrives to wear a wild assortment of wigs and prepare an even wilder assortment of exotic foods that no one will touch. Rachel’s high school friend (Omar Epps) would like to renew their acquaintance. And Jasmine (Keri Hilson), Christian’s campaign manager (John Michael Higgins) and Evan’s friend (D.C. Young Fly) show up for various complications.

Like Walter’s pie, it’s not quite as good as the real thing. It would fit it well with Hallmark’s line-up of non-stop Christmas movies from Halloween through New Year’s Day. But there’s a reason those movies are so popular. They remind us of our own chaotic but still memorable holidays and our own difficult but still wonderful families.

Parents should know that this film includes some sexual references and a non-explicit situation, prescription drug abuse, sad offscreen death of a parent, offscreen car crash with injuries, gun, and some strong and explicit language.

Family discussion: What is your family’s favorite recipe? Why was it hard for the sisters to get along?

If you like this, try: “This Christmas”

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Comedy Drama Family Issues Holidays

Imagine That

Posted on October 6, 2009 at 8:00 am

Title aside, there is not much imagination in this formulaic story of a daddy who discovers the value of his daughter’s imaginary friends — and then learns that it is his daughter who matters most of all. But I am an unabashed sucker for daddy-daughter movies, the little girl is adorable, and I was immensely relieved to see Eddie Murphy in a movie that is not terrible, so I found myself smiling.

Murphy plays Evan Danielson, who is very good at his job as an investment advisor but not very good as a husband and father. Although he and his wife Trish (the always-graceful Nicole Ari Parker) have recently separated, his primary concern is his competition at the office with Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a competitor at the office who uses his Native American heritage to sell his investment ideas to clients.

Perhaps because of the separation, Evan’s daughter Olivia (adorable Yara Shahidi) has become very attached to a security blanket she calls her “goo-ga.” When it is over her head, she talks to her princess friends. All of this is distracting and frustrating for Evan, who is caring for Olivia full-time while Trish is busy with work. But then he discovers that Olivia’s imaginary friends have some real-life insights into the companies he is analyzing. And as he spends time with Olivia to get access to the secrets of her imaginary friends, he discovers how much more important she is than any investment or promotion or client could ever be.

This much we knew going in. And parts don’t work at all. The entire Whitefeather plot line is clumsy and borderline racially insensitive, especially when it involves his son. There is too much about business and investments that will be confusing to children. Martin Sheen is underused. But DeRay Davis as Danielson’s former football-player friend is wonderfully natural and leaves us wanting to know more about his character.

Basically, it’s a little “Liar Liar” and a little “The Game Plan” and lighter-weight than both if such a thing is possible. But there is a reason this theme connects so successfully. As with “The Game Plan,” the little girl has the power in this relationship. She is not a bully or a brat and she is not selfish. She is wise and has a degree of control that is a very compelling and reassuring fantasy for children. By encouraging her father to do silly things she helps him to relinquish his own sense of control and need for success and connect to his capacity for fun and play. Shahidi and Murphy have an easy chemistry on screen that comes across as authentically sweet. Murphy will never be a subtle performer but he limits himself to just one role and seems to enjoy portraying the straight-laced but superbly professional Danielson and allowing him to thaw without overdoing it. And any time Murphy does not overdo it, that’s worth seeing.

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Comedy Elementary School Family Issues For the Whole Family

Who Should Be Offended by ‘Tropic Thunder?’

Posted on August 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm

A coalition of disability group has called for a boycott of the R-rated satire Tropic Thunder. They are asking people not to see the movie because they say ittropic-thunder-stiller-rdj-.jpg
demeans, insults, and harms individuals with intellectual disabilities by using the “R- word.” Furthermore, it perpetuates derogatory images and stereotypes of individuals with intellectual disabilities including mocking their physical appearance and speech, supports the continuation of inappropriate myths and misperceptions, and legitimizes painful discrimination, exclusion, and bullying.
Special Olympics Chair Timothy Shriver said
Some may think we ought to lighten up and not get so worked up because this is, after all, just a film. But films become part of pop culture and character lines are repeated in other settings time and time again. It’s clear to me that lines from this particular film will provide hurtful ammunition outside the movie theatre. While I realize that the film’s creators call this a parody and they never intended to hurt anyone, it doesn’t mean those words won’t.
I respect their concerns for the dignity of the disabled, but they are simply wrong and their comments reflect such a fundamental misunderstanding of the film that it is impossible to believe that anyone connected with these statements actually saw it. I side with the other movie critics who have said that this film is not disrespectful or inappropriate in the treatment of disabled people.
The movie in no way makes fun of developmentally disabled people. On the contrary. It makes fun of pretentious actors who think they can win awards by portraying developmentally disabled people.


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