Nothing Like the Holidays Movie Review
For the Rodriguez family, this Christmas is more trying than others. Father Edy (Alfred Molina) is still trying to talk his way out of the doghouse with wife Anna (Elizabeth Peña). She's angry over a past infidelity and is hinting at a divorce. He's angry that their Iraq War veteran son Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) doesn't want to take over the family business. Wannabe-actress daughter Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is anxious over the possibility of landing a prime role in a television series, while ignoring the local boy Ozzy (Jay Hernandez) who clearly pines away for her. But the couple's biggest concern is Mauricio (John Leguizamo) and his non-Puerto Rican wife Sarah (Debra Messing). Their marriage has yet to produce grandchildren, and for Edy and Anna, family is everything.
Take away the tempting Puerto Rican cuisine and the occasional lapses into semi-Spanglish, and Nothing Like the Holidays would be any other X-mas movie. It's formulaic without being completely clichéd, dealing with types and plot points lifted from a dozen other family reunion retreads. What saves the film, for the most part, is the astonishing multicultural cast, though it's time to retire some of the performers who tend to show up once Hollywood decides to venture south of the border. Indeed, Luis Guzman's ambiguously-oriented Johnny has to go toe to toe with recent Hispanic heartthrob discoveries Hernandez and Rodriguez. Thankfully, old pros Molina and Peña help support director Alfred De Villa's desire for depth.
Our filmmaker has a real way with heritage here, showing as he did in the Rosalyn Sanchez dance vehicle Yellow that even the most routine material can be cast in a different, inviting light. He's also capable of bringing an authenticity to material that should play as either farcical or just plain far-fetched. Of course, a lot of his success comes from the chemistry among the actors. There is a wonderful scene between Ferlita, Leguizamo, and Rodriguez where the trio share shots of tequila in the family attic, a lifetime of history hashed out in quaint bits of telling dialogue. And as stated before, Molina and Peña also bring a lot of truth to their turns, especially when required to infer the couple's longstanding love and impending breakup.
The key question of course is whether Nothing Like the Holidays will become a welcome yearly tradition, the kind of film that families sit down and enjoy over bites of figgy pudding and one too many glasses of boxed wine. While De Villa tries hard to make his movie perennial, this is clearly a one shot, specialized deal. The minorities who consistently feel underrepresented by the mainstream's moviemaking ideal will definitely rejoice in this winning, often witty get together. But simply changing race doesn't make a movie a classic. Alfred De Villa and the gang can be congratulated for taking the genre out of its consistently white-bread environs. But just like the gifts one gets every year, Nothing Like the Holidays is a hit-and-miss entertainment experience.
You got me a pillow? I got you a pillow!