David E. Talbert, the writer-director of Almost Christmas, has assembled a gifted cast and given them a chance to stretch out and play with their roles. He has made a heartwarming gripe-and-grouchfest that pushes a lot of buttons, though with a vivacity that's exuberantly funny and sincere. Aunt May is such a delectable force that the audience waits with baited breath to see if she'll do what we'd expect from an auntie. And she always does; her consistency is the warmest form of comfort. You've seen most of this before, but that's pretty much the point: The familiarity of the setup means the actors can just knuckle down and do their thing, and their energy keeps the movie rolling at a clip. The movie takes a few calamitous turns at its climax, dangerously approaching broad slapstick and villainizing a character we've come to love. But mainly, it's a fun and boisterous countdown to the big meal. The effort of decorating and cooking doesn't guarantee that Christmas will ever be as rewarding as it should be. We're related to people whether we like them or not. That may be why even something as programmed as Almost Christmas seems likably authentic. The committed performances by the cast of talented actors are what elevates Almost Christmas above complaints about its familiarity and melodrama.
VERDICT: "High-Quality Stuff" - [Positive Reaction] This is a rating to a movie I view as very entertaining and well made, and definitely worth paying the full price at a theatre to see or own on DVD. It is not perfect, but it is definitely excellent. (Films that are rated 3.5 or 4 stars)