Alfredo De Villa’s Nothing Like the Holidays may be less repulsive than The Family Stone, but that’s simply because it wields its strikingly similar story with slightly more subtlety. Extra emphasis on the word “slightly,” since the film does little more than dress up sloppy Yuletide family reunion clichés in Puerto Rican garbs.
In West Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, all is not jolly for the Rodriguez clan, with the youngins returning home from various parts of the world to bicker with each other and their parents, Anna (Elizabeth Peña) and Eddy (Alfred Molina), as it’s soon revealed, on the brink of divorce. Back after a tour of duty in Iraq, Jesse (Freddy Rodríguez) is wracked with guilt over a comrade’s death, depressed over the girlfriend, Marissa (Melonie Diaz), that he let get away, and stressed over his father’s plan to have him run the family bodega.
Elsewhere, sister Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is struggling with acting-career roadblocks and brother Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is frustrated by his cold businesswoman wife Sarah’s (Debra Messing) desire to prioritize lucrative hedge fund opportunities ahead of making babies, which also infuriates his mom. But other secondary characters and dilemmas are crammed into this overstuffed tale, which, despite its raft of complications and reasonably charming performances from its extended cast, strictly adheres to holiday-movie precepts that all personal, romantic, and familial issues can be settled, and unity can be achieved, through fights, heart-to-hearts, and revelations about a beloved’s impending death.
Aside from a sequence in which the Rodriguezes joins with neighbors to sing carols, De Villa hardly tries to capture the spirit of his Puerto Rican community. That’s because he’s too concerned with a clunky central metaphor (an ugly yet indestructible tree that’s equated to family) and juggling mechanical plotlines destined to be resolved in happyland. No element of Nothing Like the Holidays, though, is as tired as the conflict between Messing’s snooty, uncool Sarah and Peña’s Spanish-cursing Anna, which is so pitifully reductive and broad that it actually manages to make Luis Guzmán’s “Ay papi!” schtick seem almost nuanced.