MRR Review: "All Is Bright"

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Phil Morrison follows up his 2005 indie breakout film Junebug with this hilarious odd couple buddy comedy. Expert comic actors Paul Rudd and Paul Giamatti bring screenwriter Melissa James Gibson’s sharply written dialogue to life as a pair of French-Canadian Christmas tree salesmen working to hustle firs in New York City as part of a get-rich-quick scheme.
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MRR Review: "All Is Bright"

Rating: R (language and brief nudity)
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Directed by: Phil Morrison
Genre: Comedy / Drama

"All Is Bright" is director Phil Morrison's follow-up to 2005's indie darling "Junebug." This holiday tale tells the story of two former conmen trying to go straight and stars Paul Rudd ("I Love You Man," "Clueless") as Rene, a Canadian grifter, whose former partner Dennis, played delightfully by Paul Giamatti ("Sideways," "The Illusionist") has recently been released from prison after their last job went bad. With talented leads and a somewhat intriguing premise, Morrison's film was released to mixed critical reviews. Many audiences found the duo's onscreen chemistry magnetic but the film itself a little flat.

As the movie begins, Dennis is being released from prison, only to learn that his wife Therese, played by Amy Landecker ("A Serious Man," "Dan In Real Life"), has moved on in what might be the world's most graceless way. Not only has she divorced her time-serving husband but also told their young daughter he has unfortunately passed away. As though that weren't punishment enough, Therese has also taken up romantically with Rene. As a result, Rene, who has mostly set himself straight, feels indebted to Dennis. The likable Rene eventually offers him a job in his bootleg Christmas tree operation. Unsurprisingly, wacky hijinks ensue.

One day, Olga, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins ("Layer Cake," "The Killing Gene") pays the lot a visit. Her arrival, her tree selection, and the tree's eventual delivery end up setting new events in motion for the entire gang. While the plot seems somewhat contrived in parts, the fun holiday spirit eventually spreads throughout the characters' lives, even infecting notoriously cranky Dennis. The former con artists dedicate their free moments to winning the affections of the same women while juggling increasing threats from an out-of-state tree supplier who's moved into the neighborhood.

Unlike the Oscar-nominated "Junebug," which was released to widespread critical acclaim, "All Is Bright" is often too limited in scope and is rarely willing to explore new territory. Rudd turns in a typically strong performance, playing Rene as charming yet rough-around-the-edges rogue who frequently clashes with the more cantankerous Dennis. While audiences who are simply in search of some light holiday entertainment may find themselves quite pleased with the film, many critics have been quick to point to Morrison's second directorial outing as a step backward.

The script, penned by newcomer Melissa James Gibson, provides the two leads with little to work with, leaving the film rarely rising above expectations or providing the leads with more to do than banter. While the movie's gritty look may fit its edgy story, audiences searching for a holiday film that provides a more standard festive feeling may do well to look elsewhere. Morrison directs the film with a light touch, allowing the actors to really shine and creating an offbeat, cynical holiday tale without straying too far from the Christmas spirit.

With strong language and brief nudity that might be unsuitable for younger viewers, the film may not provide the most family-friendly choice for holiday entertainment. However, the star-studded cast and darker tone may offer a lively experience for date nights or friendly movie nights. For those who are interested in ushering in the holiday season, "All Is Bright" offers a preview of what is in store.

The combined talent of two well-known actors is easily the highlight of what might have otherwise become a quickly forgotten holiday buddy comedy. The casting of Rudd as affable charmer Rene and Giamatti as the surlier Dennis allows both actors to play to their strengths, often with hilarious results. In its brighter moments, the movie treats audiences to some lively scenes and snappy dialogue—mainly thanks to these two unique talents' experience and well-developed timing.

Neither the early Christmas present that many audiences may have been hoping for nor a lump of coal, "All Is Bright" provides a passable viewing choice for those in search of a little seasonal entertainment. While memorable performances, excellent casting, and solid direction may not be enough to overcome the relatively weak script or create a holiday classic, "All Is Bright" can still offer an early taste of the Christmas season that some audiences enjoy all-year long. The colorful banter and easy interaction of the two established lead actors offer a number of enjoyable moments, even if the film on the whole doesn't necessarily deck the halls or jingle the sleigh bells.

Rating: 3 out of 5