Sweet potato pie.
It was Grace Meyers' specialty, a Christmas delight. A dish that her family looked forward to every year for decades. But this year, Christmas is different. Grace is gone, having succumbed to a sudden heart attack. And for the first holiday season since 1971, her loving husband, Walter, is trying to find a way forward alone.
He'd like to think that having his four children and their families home to celebrate will prove a soothing balm. Ah, but Walter knows better. Because his children, well, they've got some baggage—literally and figuratively. The kind of baggage his deceased wife knew exactly how to handle. But Walter? Not so much.
Daughter Rachel's divorced, working at as waitress at a Waffle House and raising her tween daughter, Niya. Rachel's feisty, but she's struggling to make ends meet. And her dream of finishing law school seems almost impossibly out of reach.
Walter's other daughter, Cheryl, meanwhile, is a driven, successful dentist. Her husband, Lonnie, on the other hand, mostly just rehashes his brief moment of glory as an NBA player decades before. He hasn't done much since except play a different kind of field when his watchful wife isn't looking.
Son Christian and his wife, Sonya, have enjoyed even greater success. They're raising two precocious children, Cameron and Dee. Christian's running for the United States House of Representatives, a race it looks like he's got a good shot at winning. But doing so involves promising to rezone an area of the family's hometown of Birmingham, and shutting down a homeless shelter where his dad and mom (when still alive) volunteered at for decades. Suffice it to say Christian's secret is a pretty significant conflict of interest.
Youngest son Evan, a college football phenom who was "accidentally" born to Walter and Grace when the couple was in their early 50s, has a secret too. While recovering from a shoulder injury, he's gotten hooked on painkillers, an addiction that's bound to have consequences.
Then there's Grace's flamboyant, potty-mouthed sister, Aunt May. The backup singer who's performed with Mick Jagger, Chaka Khan, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and other legends has almost as many opinions as she does colorful wigs … and "colorful" words.
As for Walter, he's hiding a bombshell, too: He's selling the family's cherished house, a place that just doesn't feel like home since Grace's death.
And he's hoping that before that bomb drops, he can just figure out how to reconstitute his wife's heavenly sweet potato pie … and how to keep his feuding family from killing each other for the five very long days before Christmas arrives.
Almost Christmas is a humorous dramedy about a dysfunctional family trying to come to terms with a lifetime of relational baggage. Walter's at the center of this conflict-prone clan. He longs for his family to be able to enjoy a harmonious holiday together, but he's wise enough to know that's a long shot—especially when it comes to sisters Rachel and Cheryl, whose icy relationship makes the Cold War look like a toasty campfire. Accordingly, Walter patiently does his best to play the role of peacemaker.
As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that each family member is struggling to process his or her grief over Grace's passing. It's not the same without her, but different characters struggle to express their emotions and come to terms with their loss in different ways—especially Evan.
In a poignant scene, the senior wide receiver—who's projected to be a top pick in the NFL draft—laments a long list of things his mother will never see. Though the persona he projects is one of cocky athletic confidence, inside he's a wreck. We see him look longingly at a picture of him and his mother, on the back of which is written, "I will always be there for you, Son. Love, Mom."
Most of the main characters face crises where they have to decide whether they're going to do the right thing. For the most part, they do, and those choices lead to forgiveness for longstanding grievances, as well as deeper relationships and a greater ability to pour out their grief.
A motto on the wall of the homeless shelter says, "Our purpose in life is to help others. If you can't help them, then at least don't hurt them." Walter quotes that truism to his family at one point. And it's clear that idea applies equally to his family's relationships, too.
In a poignant scene, Walter tells Aunt May he doesn't think he lived up to his dream of giving Grace the best life possible. May won't hear it. After talking about her amazing singing career, she says, "I'm living my happily ever after. Because of you and with you, my beautiful sister got to live her happily ever after, too."
The family attends church together. We hear Christian hymns, hallelujahs and references to Jesus in the raucous gospel service. The pastor gives a shout-out to how Walter and Grace's faith motivated them to serve the homeless throughout their marriage. He also ribs "CME Christians," those who only show up for Christmas, Mother's Day and Easter (and it's clear the rest of Walter's family is all in that category).
Walter tells his youngest, Evan, that he believes his mother is proudly looking down on him from heaven. We hear the Four Tops song "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" twice, which includes the lyric, "Heaven must have made her just for me."
Aunt May describes the family home's kitchen as "the church of Grace," and says it's "holy ground."
Evan locks sister Rachel out of the house while she's wearing a skimpy robe over her underwear. She tries to sneak in through a window, which (of course) closes on her. A neighbor and former (almost) flame from high school named Malachi tries to help her. There's commentary about her nearly revealed backside. The way he moves as he tries to lift the stubborn window, her in front of him, make it look as if they're having sex.
Several female characters wear cleavage-baring outfits. Football players are shown shirtless and wearing towels in a locker room. Walter and Grace roll around in bed (briefly, and clothed) early in their relationship. Various couples kiss.
Lonnie meets an attractive younger woman at a local grocery store. It turns out that she and her family were big fans of his back in the day. She seduces him (though it's not hard to do), leading him back into a storage area in the grocery store where it's implied that they have sex. (We see her suggestively pulling a thong strap out of her jeans as she gives him a come-hither look.)
[Spoiler Warning] The clerk brags about Lonnie to Rachel, not knowing that Lonnie is a part of the extended Meyers family. Rachel hatches a plan to use that information against her sister. By the time she thinks better of it, it's too late to undo the damage. Though Cheryl's furious that Rachel wanted to hurt her so deeply, she's also grateful that she learned about Lonnie's latest infidelity. "Well, you probably did me a favor," she says. "Lonnie has a wandering eye and a wandering everything else. And I knew he wasn't going to change."
One of Evan's friends repeatedly hits on Aunt May. She crudely says, "I got vibrators older than that child." Aunt May makes a joke of how many ex-husbands she's had. There's a line about Cameron being fathered by someone other than Christian. Lonnie makes crude, suggestive gestures while working beneath a plastic Santa sitting in a sleigh. It's implied that someone has received a sext. We hear that a drug dealer is also able to provide "negative pregnancy results." There's a double-entendre reference to "balls."
Lonnie's working on a nonfunctional plastic Santa Claus decoration on the roof when it explodes and knocks him off. While he's lying on the ground, seemingly unconscious, his nieces and nephew wonder whether they should take a selfie with him.
Cheryl is so furious with Lonnie at one point that she comes after him with a rifle, aiming it at him and eventually firing one shot above his head. Lonnie and Evan end up in a fistfight.
Evan storms out to his SUV, drives off recklessly and eventually has an accident (off camera) that lands him in the hospital.
Crude or Profane Language
The majority of this film's nearly 125 profanities come courtesy of Aunt May, who never swears just once, but usually unleashes her vulgarities in machine-gun bursts. We hear 30-plus uses each of the s-word and of "a--." God's name is taken in vain about 15 times, including four pairings with "d--n." We hear "b--ch" and "d--n" about 15 times each, and "h---" nearly 10 times. There's one instance of "b--tards." Aunt May uses the word "t-tties" once in the film proper and three more times in outtakes during the credits.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Upon her arrival, Aunt May bellows, "Where's the liquor?!" Some of the drinks family members imbibe could be alcoholic, though it's not clear.
Evan's secret addiction to prescription medication eventually contributes to his above-mentioned automobile accident. When he runs out of pills, he has a friend who knows a drug dealer who gets him some more.
Other Negative Elements
As noted throughout the review, family members aren't forthcoming with secrets they're hiding. Christian's campaign manager, Andy, is more than willing to shut down the homeless shelter if that will help secure a large donation from unscrupulous businessmen.
Various family members mock Aunt May. One of them jokingly compares the smell of food she's made to the smell in the bathroom. We hear a joke about a prostate exam. Aunt May calls someone a "big-lipped son of a b--ch."
Most of us can probably recall at least one Christmas meal with relatives that was more awkward and annoying than it was heartwarming and cheerful. That's because most families have some rough edges—the kind that always seem to get rubbed together when we're supposed to be celebrating our Lord's birth.
That reality undergirds virtually every ensemble Christmas movie, including this one. It's low-hanging comedic fruit, because it's something that almost all of us can relate to.
I laughed a fair bit during Almost Christmas for exactly that reason. And there were a couple of spots where I got a bit misty, too. But despite this dramedy's tender reflections on grief and its strong emphasis on family and forgiveness, the profanity here feels pretty overwhelming for a PG-13 movie.
Aunt May, of course, represents that stereotypical family member everyone secretly cringes at: the loud-mouthed know-it-all with definitive opinions on the state of, well, pretty much everything. Like a B-52 opening vast bomb bay doors, May carpet bombs conversations with clusters of profanities, five, six, a dozen at a time. Boom. Boom. Boom. … BOOM!
It's not pleasant when that happens in real families. And it's not pleasant here, either, ultimately bombing a story that has some real poignancy in spots pretty much to smithereens.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Danny Glover as Walter Meyers; Gabrielle Union as Rachel; Nadej k Bailey as Niya; Omar Epps as Malachi; Romany Malco as Christian Meyers; Nicole Ari Parker as Sonya Meyers; Alkoya Brunson as Cameron Meyers; Marley Taylor as Dee Meyers; Jessie T. Usher as Evan Meyers; Kimberly Elise as Cheryl McClain; J.B. Smoove as Lonnie McClain; Mo'Nique as Aunt May; John Michael Higgins as Brooks; Rachel Kylian as Young Grace; A. Sabrena Farmer as Older Grace
November 11, 2016
February 7, 2017