All Is Bright

All Is Bright

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It's been worse than waiting for Christmas, but eight years on from his exceptionally fine debut, Junebug director Phil Morrison is finally back with his second film - and there's a lot more to it that pretty wrapping paper.

French Canadian Paul Giamatti stars as Dennis, a hang dog extraordinaire, who seems overwhelmed by his own rampant facial hair let alone his life. Freed from jail, he heads back home to find his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has told his little girl Michi he is dead from cancer, and hitched her wagon to his erstwhile partner in crime Rene (Paul Rudd, playing the antithesis of his recent role in Prince Avalanche). Rene, you see, has decided to go legit and in a bid to win back his family, Dennis says that he will follow suit. "What will be left of you?" asks wife Therese? It's a good question and one of the many that Melissa James Gibson's subtle yet powerful script will go on to explore.

After taking a quick pop at Rene, Dennis turns the guilt up to stun and persuades his pal to let him come along with him on a road trip to New York to sell Christmas trees. If Dennis is channeling the spirit of Eeyore then Rene is Tigger through and through, talking a mile a minute and remorselessly positive in the face of Dennis's negativity, his rough and ready attitude and nicotine-stained teeth somehow only add to his charm.

In the wistful, melancholic spirit of the film, the pair end up on a tiny traffic island in Brooklyn, with the twinkling lights of Manhattan just out of reach on the opposite shore. There they bicker and bond through December, as Dennis strikes up a friendship with Olga (Sally Hawkins). She is a Russian housekeeper to a couple of out-of-town dentists, who has the sharpest tongue on the block that masks a compassionate disposition. The house she runs is likely to lead Dennis into temptation but their relationship, like much in the film, develops in unexpected ways. The humour is served dry and on the rocks with a good dash of something less frothy, while Graham Reynolds' jazzy bouncy riff on Christmas themes suggests happier times even when the action looks bleak. Hawkins gets the best of the one-liners - "You have heart like Putin" is my particular favourite - but despite the Russian accent, she never lets Olga slip into caricature. As with Amy Adams' Ashley in Junebug, there's a sense of an inner life beyond the outward dialogue

Like the advent calendar Rene gives to Michi to count down the days to Christmas, the film holds a surprising number of sweet treats, despite its austere veneer. This snapshot feels real, with people of all walks struggling to get by in economic times that are clearly hard. But it is also infused with the less consumerist aspects of Christmas, particularly a generosity of spirit.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2013
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An ex-con and his erstwhile partner bicker and bond as they try to get rich before Christmas.

Director: Phil Morrison

Writer: Melissa James Gibson

Starring: Paul Rudd, Paul Giamatti, Sally Hawkins, Amy Landecker, Peter Hermann, Michael Drayer

Year: 2013

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Tribeca 2013

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