Some of my favorite Christmas films are probably what you wouldn’t call “Christmas” films. Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, you know, movies that take place around the holiday season, but aren’t necessarily focused on it. Horror movies usually make the rounds this time of year as well. Scream, in fact, will always feel like a holiday film for me—just because it happened to open in December 1996 and felt like the best present a horror fan could get. The new quirky All Is Bright will not be making a repeat play next Christmas but it is available on Blu-ray November 19.
Dark comedies, if done well enough, can work when revolved around the most wonderful time of the year. The Ref and The Ice Harvest are good examples, and I was hoping the same for All Is Bright. Even with Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd in the leads, the film is nowhere near funny enough, dramatic enough, or even dark enough to pull off any of its ambitions. I had higher hopes coming from director Phil Morrison, who made a huge splash with the indie-darling Junebug back in 2005. Thinking about Junebug now, I only watched it for Amy Adams Oscar-nominated performance. And I think it’s clear whose career took off after that film.
All Is Bright brings us the not-so-cheery tale of Dennis (Giamatti), just released on parole in Québec. He walks from the prison back to the small town from whence he came to visit his ex-wife Therese (Amy Landecker). She won’t let him inside to see their daughter Michi (Tatyana Richaud) because Therese told her he died of a mysterious cancer. Now, Dennis must find work — not jut ripping off electronics stores — and hits up Rene (Rudd), who also happens to be seeing Therese. Rene lets Dennis tag along to work with him selling Christmas trees in New York — on the corner of Banker Street and Nassau Avenue in Brooklyn to be exact. Now, Dennis and Rene must keep from killing each other and sell enough trees to make it through the season. A subplot involving the friendship between Dennis and a periodontist’s maid Olga (Sally Hawkins) tries to make sure someone has a love interest as all film’s seem to require one.
The All Is Bright Blu-ray comes with the typical Anchor Bay treatment that looks more top-notch than you’d expect. Considering there are no special features, it’s no surprise the film is delivered on a 25GB disc. Detail is impeccable, with the early sequences in Québec showing every detail of snow and pine tree. Facial detail is strong, as is clothing textures. There was one shot featuring noise toward the end, otherwise, typical anomalies are nonexistent. Blacks could be a touch darker, but no banding, crush, or aliasing is to be found. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio also only comes alive whenever the score kicks in. Considering it’s so dialogue heavy, the center speaker delivers everything crisp and intelligible. No additional language tracks are included, but English and Spanish subtitles are.
Morrison keeps the movie’s tone lighter than you’d think when it should have been either goofier or darker. A middling tone and pace make the film seem way longer than it is, and there’s a considerable amount of filler that could have easily trimmed down the runtime and make it at least fly by faster.
Giamatti and Rudd are as good as they always are, but Giamatti never gets the chance to really fly off his rocker and Rudd doesn’t seem to be as loose with his dialogue as you’d hope. Hawkins is rather annoying with a Russian accent, and is a rather unnecessary character until the last few scenes when Dennis figures out one last heist to steal a piano to give to Michi for Christmas. As it stands, All Is Bright is just another run-of-the-mill independent feature cast into the direct-to-video market hoping that the Christmas theme will catch shoppers’ eyes.