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All Is Bright

2013 | 107 min | R | 2.39:1

All Is Bright


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Theatrical release date

 04 October, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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All Is Bright Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 3, 2013

The title “All is Bright” is, of course, ironic. There’s nothing cheerful about the picture, the first from director Phil Morrison since 2005’s “Junebug,” wallowing in a dark mood of remorse and frustration that occasionally coughs up a scene of comedy or heartening introspection. It’s filmmaking at its loosest, more observational than dramatic, and despite a few moments that display a refreshing sense of purpose, “All is Bright” is content to lie back and stew in its depression. The intent is clear, but it hardly makes for compelling cinema, despite the best efforts of stars Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd to work over the feeble material with necessary commitment to the bruised qualities of their characters.

Fresh out of a four year stint inside a Canadian prison, Dennis (Paul Giamatti) is hoping to return to the life he left behind. Learning that his wife, Therese (Amy Landecker), has shifted her attention to pal Rene (Paul Rudd), another small-time crook, Dennis is furious, only to be destroyed by the revelation that his spouse also informed his daughter that he died last year. Left with nothing, Dennis demands Rene take him on as a tree salesman for the Christmas season, traveling to New York to peddle cheer in the worst part of town. With the pair well-intentioned and ready to shed their reputations as untrustworthy, Dennis struggles with the cold and isolation, finding a connection to customer Olga (Sally Hawkins), a brusque Russian woman house-sitting for a wealthy couple. While sales are slow and Rene battles his demons, Dennis remains committed to the tree lot cause, hoping to buy his daughter the piano she’s always wanted.

It’s not difficult to understand what the characters are thinking in “All is Bright,” but it’s hard to care about their troubles. Morrison has crafted a tiring picture that sets a jazzy, Christmas mood with its soundtrack, generating a relaxed atmosphere to a story that’s all about face-tightening tension. Dennis is an angry guy hoping to put his life back together after losing precious years, only to discover he’s been deleted by his wife, left with nothing, struggling to find shelter, food, and work. It’s a premise with potential, especially with its Canadian setting and attitude, following Dennis’s attempts to pull something worthwhile together for himself, away from the temptation and ease of crime.

Morrison executes Dennis’s tree-selling odyssey in a detached manner, capturing the daily freeze and frustration with long lenses, giving Giamatti room to explore the character’s headspace and physical isolation. The screenplay by Melissa James Gibson hints at a darkly comic route for the men and their moneymaking scheme, yet Morrison doesn’t take the hint, preferring customer interactions and moments of personal inventory to register in a roundabout way, stripping the material of its hostility. Dennis and Rene have a charged relationship involving Therese’s attentions and their destructive habits, yet “All is Bright” is so casual, nothing breaks through the static mood, making critical arcs of enlightenment feel unremarkable, lessening the seasonal awakening Gibson is working toward.

“All is Bright” does have Giamatti and Rudd, who put forth the requisite effort to look like a pair of reformed hoodlums. Unshowered and unkempt, the pair hold up their end of the dramatic bargain, with Giamatti used to this type of feral personality, pulling off Dennis’s desperation with ease. More interesting is Hawkins as a blunt Russian woman who takes a shine to Dennis’s misery. It’s a broad performance, but a necessary burst of life in a movie that often resembles a filmed play rehearsal.

Dennis’s piano quest retains the faint presence of sincerity, and some of the finer points of Christmas tree salesmanship are amusing to watch, but the majority of “All is Bright” lacks urgency, rendering the story inconsequential despite its roots in redemption. It’s difficult to be a Grinch about such a harmless endeavor, yet without a pulse, the movie can’t offer a beating heart.

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, Sally Hawkins
Director: Phil Morrison

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