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

Think Like a Man Too

Posted on June 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Think-Like-a-Man-Too-Poster-647x472A romantic comedy based on Steve Harvey’s book of advice for women about relationships has now led to a sequel based on finding the slightest possible premise for getting the gang back together to see if they can create some more box office magic.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  After all, seeing pretty people do silly things so they can kiss and make up is always a good reason to go to a movie.  And these are some of Hollywood’s most appealing performers.

In the first film, a group of buddies with a regular basketball game find themselves flummoxed by a bevy of beauties who read Steve Harvey’s book for tips on dealing with players, mama’s boys, and perpetual adolescents.  The happily ever after ending has now led to a proposal and the whole group is going to Las Vegas for separate wild pre-nuptial parties followed by the wedding itself.  When the groom-to-be assures his bride that everything will be perfect and nothing can possibly go wrong, we know that nothing will be perfect and everything will go wrong in the most humiliating way possible until we find our way to another happy ending with a possible opening for #3, which I hereby predict will involve a baby or two.

Would-be chef Dom (Michael Ealy) and corporate powerhouse Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) are deeply in love but struggling with job opportunities in different cities that they are afraid to tell one another.  Mya (Meagan Good) is not happy to run into stories about the wild past of “Zeke the Freak” (Romany Malco). Kristen (Gabrielle Union) wants to get pregnant as quickly as possible and that puts a lot of pressure on Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara).

But the development that has the biggest impact on the film is the one that happened off-screen.  Since the first one was released, Kevin Hart has become a box office powerhouse with a concert film in 2013 and two enormously successful comedies already in 2014 (About Last Night and Ride Along).  This is most likely the reason that he takes up so much more of “Too” than he did in the first one.  And since is a very loud guy, he seems to take up even more than he does, too often with all the appeal of a buzzing mosquito.

The entire premise of the first film is jettisoned, along with any aspirations beyond silly fun.  It takes Cedric (Hart) far too long to figure out that he has mistakenly booked himself into a room that costs ten times what he thinks, because every time there is any possibility to mitigate the damages of whatever he has gotten himself into, he blusters like a bantam rooster to block any kind of reality check from the other characters.  And this is close to the movie’s most plausible plotline.  Even Lucy and Ethel could not make us believe that anyone cares whether the boys or the girls have a wilder pre-nuptial party.  Director Tim Story throws in every possible signifier of movie fun, from a makeover (“Bridesmaids'” Wendy McLendon-Covey) to a dance number (okay, the girls’ dancing to Bell Biv DeVoe’s irresistible “Poison” is a treat) and the ever-popular night in the pokey plus the completely superfluous addition of a couple of cute white guys (Adam Brody and “About a Boy’s” David Walton.

The cast is clearly just here to have a good time, and the audience will, too.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language including crude sexual references and humor, sexual situations, strippers, drinking and drunkenness, and drug use, along with a lot of foolish Las Vegas behavior.

Family discussion:  What were the groups trying to accomplish in their pre-nuptial parties?  Which couple has the strongest relationship?

If you like this, try: the first film and “About Last Night” (rated R), also featuring Hart, Ealy, and Hall.

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Based on a book Comedy Date movie Romance Series/Sequel

Think Like a Man

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 6:17 pm

A gimmicky best-selling book about love, sex, and marriage has been made into a high-concept romantic comedy with an all-star cast.  “He’s Just Not That Into You”?  No, that was so 2009.  This time the inspiration is the book by stand-up comic and talk show star Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment.  The advice is the same — the stunningly obvious and yet too often ignored principle that people will treat you the way you insist on being treated.  If you expect a man to open the car door for you, he will — and he will recognize that you are a woman who deserves respect and courtesy.  If you give it up within an hour of meeting him or continue to live with him without any prospect of building a real home and family together, he will think you do not honor yourself and he will not honor you.   And some women need to learn to choose their men by their hearts, not their resumés.  Both men and women need to learn that lesson in this ensemble story about a group of friends and what happens when the ladies take Harvey’s advice — and then when the men find out what is going on and try to turn the tables.

At the most superficial level, the movie is suitably entertaining, with beautiful and talented performers coping with a range of romantic challenges.  There’s a player named Zeke (Romany Malco) and Mya (Meagan Good) who wants commitment.  There’s Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a very successful female executive who wants a “suitable” consort.   An aspiring chef (Michael Ealy as Dominic) does not fit her PowerPoint-worthy strategic plan.

A “mama’s boy” who brings his mother along on a Valentine’s Day dinner (Terrence J) has to decide if he can allow another woman (Regina Hall as single mom Candace) to come first in his life.  And Kristen (Gabrielle Union), who feels as though the place she shares with her boyfriend (Kevin Ferrara as Jeremy) is a frat house, wants a home that looks like grown-ups live there — starting with getting rid of the disgusting old sofa.  The group is rounded out with a happily married guy and pepper pot Cedric (Kevin Hart) who is in the midst of a miserable divorce and self-medicating his hurt feelings with visits to strip clubs.

The cast gives the usual rom-com banter as much sizzle as they can, and there is a whole second level of pleasure just in seeing these stars get a chance to play romantic leads.  Malco, terrific as a doorman in “Baby Mama” and a sidekick in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” makes an assured transition to leading man and Ealy has an enormously appealing screen presence.  King, Union, and Hall should all be doing the roles that get sent to Katherine Heigel.  It is good to see an almost all-black cast get a chance to make a glossy romantic comedy but it would be great to see them do something more than the usual multiplex formula.  A few Tyler Perry jokes (however welcome) are not enough to make this feel anything other than disappointingly generic.


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Based on a book Comedy Romance
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