A lump of coal wedged between comedy and drama, All Is Bright offers up a holiday tale that sabotages its seriousness with humor that’s both dire and out of place. Paroled from a Quebec prison after four years, lousy thief Dennis (Paul Giamatti) learns his wife has left him for his former partner in crime, Rene (Paul Rudd), as well as told their daughter that he’s died of cancer. In order to set things right, Dennis teams with Rene to sell Christmas trees in New York City, where they struggle to make an honest day’s pay—and argue incessantly about which of them truly deserves Dennis’s wife. Phil Morrison’s film assumes an air of miserable solemnity that’s completely at odds with its protagonists’ wannabe-jokey bickering, and a subplot involving Dennis’s budding relationship with Russian customer Olga (Sally Hawkins, boasting a horrid accent) is neither witty nor dramatically plausible. As luck would have it, Olga is an accomplished pianist and Dennis wants to get his daughter a piano, merely one of many contrived twists that Giamatti and Rudd—both acting via their scruffy beards, ratty coats, and wool hats—fail to enliven. Maudlin and mirthless, it’s a film misbegotten enough to almost make one hate Christmas.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 2, 2013