All Is Bright

Paul Giamatti daringly essays his umpteenth grumpy, disgruntled crumb-bum role in the sarcastically titled seasonal feature All Is Bright, a film which might more descriptively, memorably, and profitably be retitled The Grouch Who Stole Christmas.

Giamatti stars as Dennis Girard, a Canadian thief released from prison only to find that his wife, Therese (Amy Landecker), has given him up for an old friend, reformed crook Rene, played by Paul Rudd. Even more humiliating for Dennis is that Therese, hoping to shelter her daughter (Tatyana Richaud) from the unpleasant truth about her father, has told her that Dennis is dead so as to bar him from having any place in his daughter’s life. Out of work, at loose ends, and nearly at the end of his tether, Dennis bullies Rene into taking him along on his annual trip to New York to hawk exotic Canadian tannenbaums.

Offering nary a likable character, All Is Bright may strain the patience of audiences in search of something funny but basically wholesome, uplifting, and appropriate to view at Christmastime. A “criminal with a small dick”, Dennis Girard is ultimately too flawed, thorny, and unpersonable a character, his choices and outlook too glum, sordid, nasty, and unrepentant, for the film to be terribly entertaining or morally rewarding. All Is Bright is marginally amusing at best, and Giamatti’s grouch card may be maxed out, so the actor is advised to seek opportunities for expanding his range beyond the apoplectic curmudgeon that made him famous.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that All Is Bright is:

9. Anti-American. A U.S. border patrol agent is unfriendly, and Dennis and Rene affect a stereotypical Doug and Bob McKenzie Canadian accent to impress gullible American tree shoppers (cf. no. 2).

8. Green. “They still don’t have stars here,” Rene says on arrival in the United States, probably with reference to air pollution.

7. Anti-drug. “You should keep lungs, yeah?”

6. Pro-slut. The viewer is presumably expected to consider the casual attitude of Russian eccentric Olga (Sally Hawkins) toward what she terms “the thing” an endearment.

5. Anti-Putin. “You have heart like Putin,” Olga says insultingly.

4. Anti-marriage, with infidelity and divorce the norm.

3. Barely Christian. Rene gives his adopted daughter an Advent calendar, but little or no other mention is made of the religious significance of Christmas. An irreverent, vulgar attitude toward the holiday prevails (“If you want to throw up, do it in the tree stand”). “There’s money in holidays.”

2. Multiculturalist, pro-immigration, and pro-wigger. All Is Bright is set in that bizarro Hollywood version of the world in which whites beg and receive cigarettes from blacks. The characters generally interact postracially. And Emory Cohen, apparently typecast as wiggers after his turn as AJ in The Place Beyond the Pines, receives a cameo as dopey but sympathetic dude “Lou, who comes to buy a tree”. (cf. no. 9)

1. Egalitarian/anti-capitalistic. Olga suggests charging more for trees bought by “haves”. While Dennis and Rene represent small-scale enterprise in a relatively positive manner, more successful entrepreneurs are vilified. Dennis, in one unfunny scene, physically intimidates a more professionally operated Christmas tree business into relocating. In an even more unlikely moment, Dennis is physically ejected from the men’s room of a restaurant by its petty proprietor for not being a paying customer. The self-pitying protagonist never abandons his thieving ways (“I will not get caught twice,” he vows), and steals a piano (among other things) from a successful dentist (cf. The Possession) as a gift for his daughter. Criminal redistribution of wealth, All Is Bright appears to argue, is fine and commendable as long as it is perpetrated for a good and heartwarming cause.

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