With it’s ragtag tail of two Canadian thieves going straight (Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd) and selling Christmas Trees in Brooklyn, All Is Bright (2013) is a throw back to the meandering, pessimistic buddy movies of the seventies like Scarecrow (1973). Although the film hits its themes of redemption and acceptance in a heavy handed manner the strength of the lead performances lend even those artificial moments a sense of truth.
Giamatti and Rudd have a surprising chemistry on screen that brings out the best aspects of one another as performers while simultaneously checking any impulses to over indulge. Giamatti, who has made a career of playing disgruntled middle aged men, turns in a subdued, nuance performance while his counterpart Rudd is as charming as ever. It may be easier to accept Giamatti as a former criminal, but that’s only because Rudd is almost always the likable everyman in his films.
But All Is Bright doesn’t belong to the Pauls alone. More often than not it is Sally Hawkins as Olga, the Russian maid to a family of dentists, who steals the scene. Hawkins’ role isn’t all that original or well scripted, but she still manages to make it her own and to imbue Olga with both an intense feeling of life as well as a past. Hawkins’ exuberance is a great foil to Giamatti’s curmudgeonly behavior and an equal counterpoint to Rudd’s laid back optimism.
What keeps All Is Bright from really working is its penchant for a very romantic kind of sentimentalism. All Is Bright isn’t on par with a Hallmark movie but it’s quite comparable to the most mediocre of Frank Capra’s films. When ever things take a darker turn in All Is Bright the film avoids a confrontation with reality, and all of the complexities that go with it, by snapping back into feel good holiday fare.
All Is Bright isn’t likely to stand up to multiple viewings even with some excellent performances. If one is inclined towards the Paul Rudd of Prince Avalanche (2013) then you’re likely to find All Is Bright a sort of holiday themed response to that film. All Is Bright is worth checking out at least once.