If there is any reason, besides an annual craving for cinematic Christmas cheer, to see “Almost Christmas,” that reason is Mo’Nique. Heck, the Mo’Nique bloopers at the end of the film are worth the price of admission. So thank you, writer/director David E. Talbert for finally giving Mo’Nique a decent role after her Oscar-winning turn in 2009’s “Precious.”
Talbert does right by essentially turning the cameras on and letting Mo’Nique do her thing as the eccentric, motormouth Aunt May of the Meyers clan, swathed in caftans, sporting numerous wigs and spouting stories about her glamorous life as a backup singer for global superstars. You’ll wish for more of her, and in fact, if “Almost Christmas” has any sort of spinoff, it’d be criminal if it wasn’t a prequel focused on Aunt May’s backstory.
That being said, in a film that sports 14 stars on its poster, there’s only one other person in “Almost Christmas” who can go toe-to-toe with Aunt May, and that’s J.B. Smoove as Lonny, an arrogant, philandering former basketball player married to the uptight Cheryl (Kimberly Elise). She’s the doctor daughter of Walter (Danny Glover), who has gathered his four children and their families back at home for Christmas just 10 months after the death of his wife, Grace, and no one seems to have found their footing yet.
Just like every family, there are sibling rivalries and long-standing feuds and traditions and rituals. Cheryl fights with sister Rachel (Gabrielle Union) over everything and anything, while Christian (Romany Malco), who’s running for Congress, is urged to spend more time with his family by his wife, Sonja (Nicole Ari Parker). Little brother Evan (Jessie Usher) is a college football star with a painkiller problem. And Walter just wants to figure out how to make the perfect sweet potato pie.
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The film is a bit scattered, jumping from comic set piece to comic set piece that seem to come standard issue in the holiday movie genre. Someone falls off the roof fixing decorations? Check. Christmas dinner debacle? Check. Throw in some cute kids, a family touch-football game and burned stuffing and you’ve got yourself a holiday movie. Interwoven with all the pratfalls is a thread of sadness and pathos, expressed by the quietly overwhelmed Walter, who says he’s “learning how to walk again” in the wake of his wife’s passing.
While Glover is delicately charming as Walter, it’s truly only Mo’Nique who owns both the biggest laughs and the truly heartfelt moments in the film.
Rated: PG-13 for suggestive material, drug content and language. Starring: Danny Glover, Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union. Director: David E. Talbert. Running time: 112 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 14, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.