Susan Granger’s review of “All is Bright” (Anchor Bay)
After an auspicious directing debut with “Junebug” (2005), Phil Morrison was teetering on the brink of success but this strangely dark comedy is a disappointment, despite the best efforts of a first-rate cast.
It’s late November in wintry Quebec when Dennis Girard (Paul Giamatti) is released after spending
four years in prison for robbery. Trudging home, he discovers that his ex-wife Therese (Amy Landecker) will not allow him stay in the house because she has told their daughter Michi that he died of cancer and that she’s taken up with his amiable, French Canadian ex-partner/buddy Rene (Paul Rudd), who is planning to divorce his wife to marry her. After an angry confrontation with Rene, frantic, penniless Dennis demands to team up with him to cross the border to sell Christmas trees on a street corner in Brooklyn, despite a warning from his parole officer not to leave the country. Guilt-riddled Rene agrees – after presenting young Michi with an Advent calendar to mark off the days that they’re gone. Former thieves – for whom lying, cheating and stealing is a way of life – they’re both determined to go straight. Taking time out from their persistent arguments about which of them really deserves Therese, morose, misanthropic Dennis is befriended by a quirky Russian customer, Olga (Sally Hawkins), a dentist’s assistant who’s house-sitting her employer’s brownstone. After he delivers her tree, she astutely observes, “You have a heart like Putin.” Though plagued with arthritis, Olga happens to be an accomplished pianist, which is convenient since Dennis is determined to come back with a piano for Michi.
Scripted as a character study by Melissa James Gibson (FX’s “The Americans”), it’s syrupy, predictable and contrived, although Phil Morrison’s direction clearly evokes the desperation of hard economic times which is particularly poignant during the holiday season. In counterpoint to the story’s depressing solemnity, Graham Reynolds’ jazzy musical score consists of upbeat Christmas music.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “All is Bright” is a forgettable 4. It’s a wistful, joyless cinematic interlude.