Nothing Like The Holidays Directed by: Alfredo De Villa Cast: Freddy Rodriguez, Elisabeth Pena, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, Debra Messing Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: PG-13
Plot: An eccentric Latin-American family living in the Puerto Rican area of Chicago celebrates Christmas and various life lessons that enhance the holiday spirit.
Who’s It For?: Properly, this film isn't limited to an audience of a particular background. However, if you've already got a favorite family Christmas movie, (mine's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) there are slim chances that this will be any type of a replacement.
Expectations: I always like to see how Chicago is captured in films. But would there be anything to truly Like about another holiday film that reminds me once again, in so many words, that "family is the best gift of all?"
Freddy Rodriguez as Jesse Rodriguez: Today it's almost a no-brainer that a story about an American family must have an offspring serving in the armed forces. Like other components in the story, Rodriguez's character is a cheap sucker-punch to the heart. The Iraq veteran broods around lively Humboldt Park while concealing a disturbing story, and hopes to make amends with a former girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) that he dumped years ago while overseas. This mopey character would actually be effective if it was even slightly different than others of his kind. Score: 4
Luiz Guzman as Johnny: Trademark Guzman quick-paced dialogue that borders on neurotic can't save the film's lack of funny, no matter how the actor may try. A sinking script with little genuine humor, it's hard not to think he had to improvise his lines trying to fend for himself. Score: 6
Debra Messing as Sarah Rodriguez: She's like a single Lay's original potato chip dipped into a gargantuan bowl of salsa. The first half of the movie handles her character as undeniably pale (literally and figuratively). However, working with a genuinely touching performance by Alfred Molina in the second half, she brings a wealthy amount of the film's heart. Score: 6
Talking: The lack of cheesy dialogue is something to be thankful for. Even in gentler moments the film restrains itself from any flubs, and allows its sweetness to go unharmed. And for a family film, Nothing Like The Holidays has moderately heavy use of foul language, which makes it a solid PG-13. Score: 5
Sights: The film gives Chicago's Humboldt Park its long overdue screen time. Unfortunately, it also contains a ridiculous march sequence that stomps around joyously for about three minutes - unaware it is the corniest segment in the film. Apparently, De Villa didn't get the memo that images of unity can be more effective when they remain subtle. Score: 4
Sounds: From start to finish, Nothing Like The Holidays has a bombastic Latino soundtrack that brings toe-tapping vibrancy to its snow-covered locale. The songs compliment the film's general pride for its ethnic focus and round the movie with enthusiasm that is nothing but universal. Score: 7
Where the film cannot poke at its audience's emotions, it fails. The effectiveness of sequences both comedic and dramatic are soured by predictability. Equally forced are the characters in the film – they are not people, but types, (and thankfully, not stereotypes). And though most are from the same family, they’re hardly recognizable to each other. With playful bickering and dinner table sequences, we are being told these separate human beings are a family. But, due to overzealous casting, we never truly feel it. This is what happens when a film has a casting Christmas list of every Latino (or Latino looking, considering Molina is from London) actors/actresses possible.
It doesn’t take a scrooge to realize that at this film's heart is a cheap present. Each dilemma that a person faces in the film involves the next direction of their life (but apparently, not shopping for presents). Somehow, what some may reason as “movie magic”, everyone is forced to confront and resolve their problems before Boxing Day. But the uniting notion of family within Holidays is similar to the ridiculous Christmas sweater – even if we’ve been given the same thoughtless schlock before, it’s still a little cozy.
Final Score: 5/10