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All Is Bright (2013)

by on 2014/12/07

All Is Bright (2013)

“I told her you were dead.”

* * *

Maybe I missed something?

Like opening a present but overlooking the batteries, I was somewhat taken aback by what this gift did, or rather didn’t do: make me laugh.

Serious isn’t bad, it was just unexpected.

The title suggests light or irony. The copy on the box promised humour, specifically “dark comedy”. And the trailer we saw seemed funny, albeit in a dry, sardonic way. (In retrospect it makes perfect sense; it contains pretty much every joke in the entire film.)

No, the operative word here is “bleak” though I understand that concept might not sell well. Misleading marketing aside, All Is Bright is an effective chain of vignettes, an hour and a half of glimpses into simmering rage and despair.

In the snarled words of one of its characters, “Seasons greetings from Canada!”

I can see why Paul Giamatti was drawn to this Sideways-minded drama. The addition of Paul Rudd (40-Year-Old Virgin) in a frenemy role had me drawing parallels to other troubled partner stories, especially Goin’ Down the Road and Urban Cowboy. I was also reminded of Mon Oncle Antoine for its rural wintry backdrop and — notwithstanding a mobile phone — few hints of modern life.

Fresh out of four years in prison, Giamatti’s Dennis returns to his Quebec home, searching for an estranged family, and ex-partner Rene (Rudd). He holds the latter responsible for the failed heist which led him to jail. Perhaps in restitution, Rene proposes selling trees, a truckload driven down to New York City.

Spoiler alert: they don’t get on especially well.

Although more-than-half-set in New York, and with characters barely convincing as Quebecers, numerous Canadianisms pop up throughout, references to our money, Tim Hortons, hockey, and “In Flanders Fields”.

Intercut with scenes of Dennis’ daughter exploring an Advent calendar, the men fight together, fight with others, and fight a barrage of misfortune. They never manage to handle or accept things gracefully, and will test the allegiance of most well-tempered viewers. Expect lies, ingratitude, violence, and persistent kleptomania, even against their most generous supporters.

Ironic carols can be heard throughout, reminding us the production is just as Christmas-y as it is Canuck-y. Sad, slow, stumbling jazz reflects the schlumpy progress — such as it is — of our anti-heroes. By midway through you may already find yourself tired of quirked-out standards, especially “Angels We Have Heard On High”.

I also found myself tiring of a more literal darkness. In addition to its dull sepia tone, the visuals were awfully muddy, sometimes dark enough that important cues could be missed. (Another detail which the trailer seems to correct, as it looks much clearer.)

It’s not all drudgery however. All Is Bright reveals its strengths once you’ve settled into its approach. It illustrates the distinction between “feel-bad” and just flat-out bad, effectively conveying a sense of things I’d rather not experience.

I was glad to see it, but I wasn’t glad to see it, if you know what I mean.

* * *

Rated R

107 minutes

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