December 15, 2008

Movie Review: Nothing Like the Holidays

nothingholidays1_smallThis holiday season seems to be coming in a bit light on the quantity this year, with only two explicitly Christmas-themed movies this year. The first one was the decidedly lackluster Four Christmases, which attempted to be heartfelt and manic at the same time, resulting in a film that was thankfully over in rather short order. Fortunately it is not the sole representation for Christmas 2008. The second Christmas film of the season centers on a Puerto Rican family living in Chicago. I am very pleased to say that this film is considerably more satisfying and will likely be remembered as the preeminent Christmas tale for 2008. At least that is what I hope for after seeing both films.

nothingliketheholidayspic9There are many factors that are used when judging a film's quality and worth. Not all criteria are useful in all situations, nor do they all always apply to every film. When making a determination of the worth of a family reunion film such as Nothing Like the Holidays one of the things that needs to be considered is whether or not you enjoyed spending time with the family involved. That is a category where this movie shines. When the credits began to role it was over all too soon. I wanted to spend more time with the extended Rodriguez clan. They are a real family with real feelings, the fight and bicker but they also love each other and value their time with each other. The fact that I want more time with them is more than enough to make me recommend this film.

Nothing Like the Holidays is a reunion film. Being that, it is hard not to expect some manner of happy meetings, bittersweet reunions, or possible explosions of old bad feelings. Not to go against the grain, we get all of them here, but there is definitely something that makes it work so well.

nothingliketheholidayspic12The Rodriguez family, Eduardo (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Pena), live in a nice home on a typical street in the suburbs of Chicago. They are set to have the whole family home for the holidays. Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is bringing his executive wife Sarah (Debra Messing), Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) is just back from a tour in Iraq, and budding actress Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is visiting from Los Angeles. In addition to the three children they are also welcoming cousin Johnny (Luis Guzman), family friend and employee of Edy's at the family run bodega Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), and Jesse's former flame Marissa (Melonie Diaz). All told, the house is overrun with emotions and possibilities for story threads.

Nothing Like the Holidays does have a lot in common with 2005's The Family Stone, however this new film feels more genuine and complete, more than just the 1005 film wrapped in ethnic trappings. Although, I do not recall the last mainstream release focusing on a Puerto Rican, or Latino in general, family. Not that it really matters, but it is nice to see this collection of actors on the screen, they all bring life to the stories told.

If you want something original you are not going to want this film. The reunion/holiday film is another one of those genres that has had most of its potential for development whittled away. What it has to rely on is execution, writing, and character, which this one excels in.

nothingliketheholidayspic6This story has a little bit of everything, however it hinges on the announcement that Anna and Edy are on the verge of divorce. In addition to that Jesse is wracked with guilt over the death of a comrade in Iraq, Roxanna is struggling with her career, and Mauricio and Sarah are at odds on the career versus family front. This is in addition to the relationship subplots and roles played by the smaller supporting roles.

The movie succeeds on the strength of its screenplay and its performances. The screenplay was written by Alison Swan and Rick Najera, based on a story by Robert Teitel and Rene M. Rigal, and it really captures a genuine feeling reality. On one hand it is hard to believe that all of these things would come to a head at one time, but the abundance of issues to evolve and be resolved is a staple of the reunion film and it is handled ably here.

The cast comes together and truly makes me believe they could be a family. They argue, talk over each other, yell at each other, and come together drinking with each other as if they have been doing this together for years.

Bottomline. This is a good holiday film, it will leave you wanting more. This slice of life family drama/comedy is one well worth spending your time with. Don't miss it.



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