Since Mo’Nique threw that TV set down the stairs in ‘Precious’, it’s been a relatively quiet seven years for her. But the way she sweeps into ‘Almost Christmas’ – a mostly delightful domestic comedy suffused with real family warmth – you’d think she never left the spotlight. Playing a successful backup singer intent on bringing cheer (plus a bit of discipline) to a family in desperate need of it, the Oscar winner supercharges what might have been a generic affair.
The comfortably upper-middle-class Meyer clan have recently lost their matriarch, as well as her prized box of recipes. As they gather for Christmas in their Alabama home, sadness tinges every exchange. And so they show up with their luggage and half-buried tensions: two competitive adult sisters, Rachel and Cheryl (Gabrielle Union and Kimberly Elise), can barely speak to each other. Rising political star Christian (Romany Malco) can’t escape his chattering cellphone. And the baby of the gang, college football player Evan (Jessie Usher), quietly nurses an addiction to pain pills. It’s up to Danny Glover as the recently widowed Walter to hold it all together.
The movie takes a few calamitous turns at the climax, dangerously approaching broad slapstick and villainising a character we’ve come to love. But mainly, it’s a fun and boisterous countdown to the big meal. Paradoxically, the moments that stick with you are the film’s quietest: Walter improvises his way through baking a pie, the scent of it slapping a wide smile on his face. And when that dessert is finally sampled, the memories that come flooding back need no words.