After four years in jail for a failed robbery, Dennis (Paul Giamatti) returns home to find that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has not only moved on, but she's moved onto his brother, Rene (Paul Rudd), not to mention told Dennis' daughter Michi (Tatyana Richaud) that he died of cancer while in prison. Unfortunately for Dennis, Rene is also his only shot at making some money the old-fashioned way, so he muscles his way into Rene's holiday gig: picking up a bunch of Christmas trees on a loan and trekking them across the Canadian border into New York City, where the two men will live on a street corner for most of the month hoping to turn $3,000 into $20,000.
Director Phil Morrison made a splash back in 2005 with his indie comedy Junebug, which was not only a critical success, but signaled the arrival of Amy Adams, who was nominated for an Oscar. Oddly, aside from a 68-minute UK production of some sort entitled Perfect Partner from the same year, and a 2011 episode of the HBO show "Enlightened," this is the first thing Morrison's directed since. Perhaps Junebug was simply a perfect match of filmmaker and material -- All is Bright underplays the humor until it practically disappears, and the film has a certain emotional rawness to it that narrows its ideal audience significantly. It's not a bad movie, but definitely an unusually small one, glancing at a very brief moment in some below-average lives.
Although All is Bright is being sold as a low-key character comedy, it's actually more of a drama. The trailers conveniently cut around Dennis' deep well of anger toward Rene, for taking his wife, and his constant temptation to fall right back into his old ways, especially when tree sales are very slow at first. Giamatti, who also produced the film, handles the character as well as anyone could, elevating some emotionally raw moments into comedy with perfect timing and delivery. Rudd is also excellent in a role that allows for less of his endless charm, putting on an optimistic face, day after day, in the face of hopelessness. A third key role is filled by Sally Hawkins, who plays Olga, a maid for a couple of wealthy dentists who has a strange non-romantic affection for Dennis.
The core problem with All is Bright is its aimlessness, which can probably be chalked up to Morrison. Although the director guides the viewer toward emotional destinations from time to time, such as when Dennis sits in the back of a piano store and simply reflects, these moments and performances feel so incoherent, detached from one another. Somewhere between the screenplay (by Melissa James Gibson) and the screen, some element that would tie the whole picture together was lost. Giamatti clearly illustrates that Dennis is on an odd path toward healing and forgiveness, but Morrison is distinctly focused on the moment, rather than any arcs or transformations his characters are going through. For instance, Rene gives Michi an advent calendar, before he leaves, so Morrison keeps cutting back to Michi opening most of the compartments. Ultimately, this side thread seems to serve no other purpose than to keep the audience caught up with what day it is, yet the little moments take up a noticeable little chunk of the picture.
As the film progresses, little signs that Morrison needs a stronger hand on the wheel start to pop in one by one. Mainly, key information (such as the specificity and importance of Dennis' desire to get Michi a gift for Christmas, or the nature of Olga's work) is not properly highlighted despite its importance to the story. Outside of Morrison's arena, the script also relies on a major third-act contrivance that is depressing in its familiarity and unoriginality, forcing the characters in a position for a climax that is hard to make emotional sense of. All is Bright has its moments, and most of the people involved are trying their best, but the film just doesn't gel into a satisfyingly bittersweet holiday confection.
Anchor Bay issues All is Bright in a standard one-disc Blu-Ray case. Although the poster art is kind of funny, it suggests a more frenetic mainstream comedy, which may frustrate viewers who sit down and get something totally different. Inside the case, a code for the UltraViolet DigitalHD copy is included.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, Anchor Bay's high definition presentation is impressive (for this type of film). Most of the film takes place on the underlit streets of New York City, and yet there are almost no instances of banding, which is mighty impressive. During these scenes, grain can appear a touch noisy, but only occasionally. Colors are drab but seemingly accurate to the film's downbeat winter palette. No sharpening or artifacting spoils the mood.
Similarly, sound is a strong Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track which further captures a certain true-to-life ambience that gives the film much of its personality. Even during dialogue scenes, the sounds of the city frequently creep in, such as dogs barking and distant sirens, all of which are nicely balanced. At one point, two overlapping conversations are heard, which are positioned in an appealingly realistic manner. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
None. Trailers for Jayne Mansfield's Car and Pawn Shop Chronicles play before the main menu.
Giamatti's work in this one is pretty good, and sometimes Morrison's quiet approach is engaging. Still, the lack of extras and cohesion limit All is Bright to a rental at best.
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