Ah, the Christmas season. A time for family, feasting, giving, and celebration – unless you’re two Canadian criminals turned straight-edge civilians. In that case, ’tis the season for backstabbing, stealing, lying, and scheming, as director Phil Morrison spins his own tale of holiday cheer by focusing on the profitable Christmas tree selling racket that causes people to pay absurd prices out of tradition, decorating the tree’s decaying corpse with tinsel, ornaments, and any other flashy attention grabbers. Yeah, never thought about it that way, did you? But there’s money to be made and lessons to be learned in All Is Bright, as the super acting duo of Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd attempt to “Ho, ho, ho” their way straight to the bank.
Recently released from jail, Dennis (Paul Giamatti) returns home to a cold welcome from his supposed wife (Amy Landecker), finding out she’s told his only daughter Michi (Tatyana Richaud) he’d died of cancer. Coping with the concept of never seeing his child again, matters only become worse when he finds out that his wife started seeing his friend/ex-partner Rene (Paul Rudd), and that the two plan on getting married. A lot changes when you’re in prison for four years, but Dennis still has a hard time accepting such drastic shifts.
Putting drama aside, Dennis still understands he needs a job and income, so he turns to Rene for any opportunity. With the Christmas season approaching, Dennis ends up accompanying Rene to New York City (traveling from Canada), where the two will sell Christmas trees on an empty lot. But is going on an extended trip with the man who is marrying your (ex)wife really a good idea? Looks like Dennis is going to find out…
An immediate problem I found with All Is Bright struck me somewhere around the mid-point of my viewing, when I realized I didn’t care about either character, and was only enjoying watching both Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti. This dosage of double Paul goodness is a dream team considering casting choices, but Melissa James Gibson’s script doesn’t properly create characters with steadfast motives, grounded personas, or dramatically balanced conflicts. Utilizing the holidays for this buddy dramedy didn’t really add any seasonal spice, as Dennis and Rene continually mess about with one another, hurdling towards an inevitably jolly ending.
When you have Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd playing opposite one another though, you’re already at an advantage. Playing two Canadian gentlemen caught up in the Big Apple, there was some fun to be had with their trite bickering, and moments of true chemistry turned Dennis and Rene into formidable “frenemies.” Rudd is especially entertaining when he flicks on the full “Québécois” charm, turning into this outdoorsy caricature of what Americans believe rural Canadians to be. This is the kind of independent work I love seeing Paul Rudd taking part in, and with a partner like Paul Giamatti to feed off of, Rudd takes a stereotypical character and turns the role into something vastly more entertaining.
Paul Giamatti shines while engaging in another relationship though, as Sally Hawkins plays a Eastern European maid who buys a Christmas tree from Dennis, sparking a friendship with the burly Canuck. There was something redeeming about their friendship though, because it totally stayed in the friend zone, and never really embraced any romantic tendencies. I’m honestly a little sick of characters always having to fall in love with someone, and while there were suppressed undertones present, All Is Bright avoided any cheesy romantic “necessities,” and just showed two genuine, lonely people depending on one another for a little company.
Even with a quirky, indie ending that aims straight for the heart but misses said target, All Is Bright becomes watchable because Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti are better than you. They just are. Whether they’re fighting in front of some helpful teenagers, or stealing from snobby, rich dentists, watching two phenomenal actors do their thing is always a rewarding experience, even if the groundwork isn’t up to snuff. Morrison’s film isn’t like opening your dream gift on Christmas morning, but maybe the third or fourth choice on your list to Santa. It’s not an adorable puppy, but it’s not an itchy, hand-knitted sweater either. Can that be a new movie rating scale?