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 Alfredo De Villa’s film does little more than dress up sloppy Yuletide family reunion clichés in Puerto Rican clothes. In West Chicago’s Humboldt Park, all is not jolly for the Rodriguez clan, with kids returning home from various parts of the world to bicker with each other and their parents Anna (Elizabeth Peña) and Eddy (Alfred Molina), who it’s soon revealed are on the cusp 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 (Melonie Diaz) he let get away, and stressed over Dad’s plan to have him run the family bodega. Meanwhile, 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. Further secondary characters and dilemmas are crammed into an overstuffed tale that, 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/or revelations about a beloved’s impending death. Aside from a sequence in which the Rodriguezes joins with neighbors to go door-to-door singing carols, De Villa barely even tries to capture the spirit of his Puerto Rican community, too concerned is he with a clunky central metaphor (the front lawn’s ugly yet indestructible tree = family) and juggling myriad mechanical plotlines destined to be resolved in happyland. No element of Nothing Like the Holidays, however, 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!” comedic shtick seem almost nuanced.
- Alfredo De Villa
- Rick Najera, Alison Swan
- John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodríguez, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña, Luis Guzmán, Vanessa Ferlito, Jay Hernandez, Melonie Diaz
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