Saturday, July 10, 2010

Christmas in July: Nothing Like the Holidays (2008)

Maybe all the Christmas movies have already worn away my resolve, but I kind of liked certain things about Nothing Like the Holidays, a thoroughly formulaic family-comes-home-for-the-holidays dramedy whose sole distinguishing feature is that it focuses on a Puerto Rican family rather than the typical white people. Ethnicity aside, this Chicago family (mother, father, two sons, daughter and daughter-in-law) is like every other Christmas-movie family, with the same problems and the same convenient resolutions. There's potential divorce, secret illness, unrequited love and painful past trauma; all that's missing is a character who comes out of the closet at an inopportune moment.

Still, it's nice to see a movie give substantial roles to seemingly half the recognizable Latino actors in Hollywood (including Elizabeth Pena, Jay Hernandez, Freddy Rodriguez, Melonie Diaz, Luis Guzman and John Leguizamo, plus the Italian-American Vanessa Ferlito and Alfred "I can play any ethnicity" Molina), and the actors never oversell their characters' broadly drawn personalities. Even Debra Messing as the awkward white woman grudgingly accepted into the family goes deeper than the character's first impression would suggest. Director Alfredo De Villa resists the urge to turn awkward moments into dumb comic setpieces, and he mostly underplays the potentially overwrought emotions of one son's return from active duty in Iraq.

Nothing Like the Holidays has nothing to add to the Christmas genre, and it doesn't really have anything to say about the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, either. But it does have some appealing characters who are worth spending a little time with, and it projects a sense of warmth and community without overdosing on sentiment. It'll never be essential holiday viewing, but when it inevitably ends up on some cable network around Christmastime, you might be surprised to find yourself sitting through the whole thing.

The True Meaning of Christmas: It's all about family.

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