Nothing Like the Holidays
Why is Grace here? Isn’t this film about a Puerto Rican family?

Theatrical Release Date: 12/12/2008
Director: Alfredo De Villa
Cast: Freddy Rodriguez, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña, John Leguizamo, Vanessa Ferlito, Debra Messing, Jay Hernandez, Luis Guzmán, Melonie Diaz

If there is “Nothing Like the Holidays”, I’m not sure I’m ready for the season. One of the many holiday themed films that will be inundating theaters in December, the film centers on a Puerto Rican family in Chicago, finally reuniting all together now that their youngest son (Freddy Rodriguez who also is an executive producer of the film) has returned from a military tour in Iraq.

You’d think one major issue of homecoming would be enough for this one but no … nearly every family member has emotional trauma welling up inside of them and there’s “Nothing Like the Holidays” to bring it all out. (You know I can’t resist a pun.)

Now, I said nearly every family member because the ubiquitous Luis Guzman is about the only character in the film that isn’t on the verge of completely ruining/altering/mending their lives. Bear with this next paragraph, it’s a doozy.

Rodriguez is dealing with the death of a friend/squad member as well as trying to adjust to life outside the military. Being back in town, he also has to confront his ex-girlfriend who has since had a child and after the baby-daddy left, moved on with another man. His older brother (John Leguizamo) and sister-in-law (Debra Messing) are poorly balancing hectic careers and the possibility of having a child. His sister (Vanessa Ferlito) is an aspiring actress in L.A. who is struggling to get a part and also trying to decide whether becoming romantically involved with a family friend (Jay Hernandez whose character has a desire to kill the man who killed his brother) is a good idea. Mom (Elizabeth Peña) and Dad (Alfred Molina) are on the verge of a divorce because of his past and a secret he’s holding onto.

Did I mention this is supposed to be uplifting?

I will say that many of the audience members seemed to come out of the screening with a positive view on the film and weren’t nearly as put off by the wooden script and melodramatic setups as I was so if you’re a sucker for holiday films about families on the verge of dismemberment that somehow manage to pull it together by the ending credits that begin over a cliché slow pan from the family bodega towards the city, then by all means go out and see this film.

I expect more from holiday films and although my Scrooge-like nature may bely it, actually enjoy a feel-good sapfest as much as the next person. This one just fell short for me. It wasn’t funny enough, the dialogue feels like something you’d see on a high school stage and there are equal parts misery and saccharine to put in your festive peppermint mocha while trying to figure out how 99 minutes can take so long.

If director Alfredo De Villa and the screenwriters could have just focused their attention on a few of the characters and not painted such a broad brush over such a large ensemble, maybe I could see giving this a passing review but I’m afraid “Nothing Like the Holidays” can only garner a 2 out of 5. I can only hope that there will be some better holiday films to come so I can get these three ghosts out of my apartment (they eat a surprising amount for dead spirits).