Christmas in October? Why not! “All is Bright” seemed like an interesting pre-holiday season film to get me into the spirit early this year; however, the film wasn’t anything I was expecting from a ‘Christmas movie.’ “All is Bright” stars Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd, so, automatically I was expecting obscene humour alongside some melodrama. “All is Bright” follows Dennis (Giamatti) after he completes his four year sentence in prison and teams up with his ex-best friend and ex-partner (and his wife’s current lover), Rene (Rudd), and sell Christmas trees in New York in the hopes of buying a piano as a Christmas present for his estranged daughter. “All is Bright” is a less-funny “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” meets “Bad Santa” meets Canadian rustic film – despite not being a Canadian film.
“Get over here and smell some memories.”
Nothing puts you more in the Christmas spirit than thievery, family dissolution, desperation, and…Canada? The one aspect of the film that stood out to me more than others was the prevalence of Canadian iconography, stereotypes, and allusions throughout the film. “All is Bright” was filmed in New York, directed by an American director, Phil Morrison (“Junebug”), and was first released in the good ol’ US of A. Why then is this film so Canadian? Better yet, so Quebecois? The main characters originate from Quebec, Giamatti finds a loonie on the street, Rudd endorses First Nations stereotypes to better market the trees, Canadian border patrol is parodied throughout the film, Rudd wears a Team Canada tuque for the majority of the film, and Giamatti indicates he can’t get on without his Timmies. And that’s not even all of it!
“All is Bright” sets itself up to be a very non-traditional, contrasting, and unorthodox ‘Christmas movie,’ taking a spin on the North American socio-cultural traditions and values that holiday films usually encompass. While the film contrasts those traditions, Giamatti contrastingly attempts to hang on to those values after his four years in jail for robbery. In that sense, I see “All is Bright” as a macroscopic view of ‘The North American Christmas’ by juxtaposing how Canadians and Americans ‘do Christmas’. Rudd makes it clear, “we’re not selling trees, we’re selling memories,” indicating the materialistic nature of the North American Christmas. Similarly, Rudd uses First Nations stereotypes to better market the trees because he receives a better response from New York citizens by reconnecting the tree to the land; in other words reclaiming the Christmas Tree’s identity as, in fact, a real tree. To say Morrison was critiquing “the meaning of Christmas,” may be a stretch, however, I feel inclined to suggest so considering the significant amount of contrasts through “All is Bright.”
Music and Lyrics
Giamatti has a track record of playing the “woe-is-me” protagonist (think ‘Barney’s Version’ and ‘Sideways’, for example). Dennis is no different in this case. Giamatti always does a wonderful job performing the role of egomaniac, however, in this film, it comes on too strong. Sometimes the dialogue between Rudd and Giamatti feels hollow while it’s over the top. As well, there are times where Olga’s (Sally Hawkins) accent is so strong it’s impossible to penetrate. But where the lyrics may be sub-par in some instances, the brilliant use of Christmas music as comedic relief and commentary compensates quite well. Morrison did a wonderful job in placing chipper Christmas tunes during scenes where the action does not match, or during silly scenes like Giamatti taking his anger out on a Elf yard balloon. With how often the music does not match the scene it accompanies, it reiterates my suspicion of Morrison’s contrasting Christmas traditions with life events that do not match ‘The North American Christmas.’
Ultimately, I enjoyed the film. It was amusing, didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, but parts of it were dryer than overcooked Christmas turkey. But all-in-all, “All is Bright” is an entertaining Christmas movie, without really being a ‘Christmas’ movie.
My Rating: 6.5/10