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.
The Video and Audio
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.