You want a Christmas tree? Believe me, Judge Clark Douglas can get you a Christmas tree.
All is busted. All is broke. All is bitter. All is bright.
"Why would I lie for him?"
Facts of the Case
Dennis (Paul Giamatti, American Splendor) has just gotten out of prison. He's disappointed to discover that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker, A Serious Man) has moved on and has even gone so far as to tell their young daughter that Dennis died of cancer. To make matters worse, Therese has been having an affair with Dennis' old pal Rene (Paul Rudd, Role Models), a scruffy optimist who has vowed to marry Therese as soon as he can convince his current wife to grant him a divorce. Unfortunately, Rene is also the only person willing to offer Dennis a job. Dennis reluctantly agrees to make an attempt at helping Rene sell Christmas trees, but how long will he be able to contain his resentment towards his clueless buddy?
Many reviews of All is Bright have pitched the film as a black comedy, and the film's marketing seems to encourage that notion. As such, I was surprised to discover just how melancholy and serious-minded the film actually is. While there are certainly a few chuckles here and there, it's a stretch to classify the film as a comedy of any sort. This is a sad, bittersweet story about a couple of lonely, desperate men. The chipper, smooth jazz Christmas music that is tossed all over the soundtrack only serves to accentuate the despair the characters are feeling.
The film was directed by Phil Morrison, whose previous effort was the wonderful Junebug (one of the best films of 2005). All is Bright lacks that film's warmth and keen cultural insight, but it does manage to retain that movie's knack for strong characterization and maintains a relaxed pace that allows the characters time to breathe. It's an actor's movie, to be sure. The script is the debut effort of playwright Melissa James Gibson, who sets aside conventional storytelling concerns and mostly focuses on detailing the inner and outer lives of her two central characters. It's not going to work for everyone, but I can't help but regard the approach as a welcome change-of-pace.
Giamatti and Rudd are ideally cast, playing variations on roles we've seen them play before. Both actors are fairly versatile, but they've both contented themselves with exploring different angles of particular types of individuals. Giamatti, of course, is the surly, embittered ex-con with severe anger issues; he's a explosive device just waiting for somebody to light his fuse. Giamatti plays barely-controlled rage so masterfully—just watch him during the scene in which he lunges at any excuse for provocation from a sweet-natured competing tree vendor (an amusing Rob Munk, Rescue Me). Alternately, Rudd plays the slightly dim motormouth who has something to say on every subject—he's kind of a downtrodden Cliff Clavin. In an effort to pick up business, Rudd adopts a goofy Canadian accent with the hope that it will make him seem more charming. It works, kind of.
The assorted subplots are woven into the mix in a manner that doesn't feel too obvious—you can see the seams in retrospect, but not while you're actually watching the movie. Rene seeks his divorce and has difficulty fully embracing his relationship with Therese, Dennis seeks to be reconnected with his daughter, there are assorted financial difficulties to be dealt with, etc. The most compelling secondary strand is the relationship that develops between Dennis and a Russian maid named Olga (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky). Hawkins' gruff-yet-tender demeanor is sublime; she waltzes away with every scene she appears in. Appropriately, Giamatti seems bewitched, bothered and bewildered by her.
All is Bright (Blu-ray) has received a strong 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that effectively highlights the film's crisp, naturalistic cinematography. Detail is strong throughout, permitting the viewer the soak in every nuance of the run-down New York locations in which much of the action takes place. Darker scenes occasionally exhibit a bit of noise, but it's not excessive. the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track is effective, too, capturing some subtle sound design elements quite skillfully. Alas, there are no supplements of any sort included.
All is Bright never approaches the greatness of Junebug, but it's a fine, moody showcase for two good actors. A downbeat bit of counter-programming for your holiday viewing lineup.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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