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Nothing Like the Holidays

Nothing Like the Holidays

Rated PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Alfredo De Villa. Starring Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña, Freddy Rodríguez, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzmán, Jay Hernandez, Melonie Diaz, Vanessa Ferlito, Debra Messing.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 19, 2008

This overly sentimental family Christmas drama, featuring a veritable checklist of prominent Hispanic actors, falls victim to the shortcoming so prevalent in similarly ethnic-themed movies with similar casts – everything and everyone is so damn serious. It’s as if the weight of the world left little room for some lighthearted holiday cheer in Nothing Like the Holidays. Here, old wounds reopen and sibling rivalries resurface as the Puerto Rican Rodriguez clan comes together and then apart at the family home in Chicago over the holidays. The steady stream of confrontations, secrets, and other little dramas jam-pack the movie’s script (three screenwriters are credited) in a manner that suggests amateurishness rather than insight, with the ultimate message being (of course) that no matter how many times you scream at your own flesh and blood, blood will always be thicker than water. It’s the kind of packaged movie whose singular purpose is to make the audience feel all warm and fuzzy about their own dysfunctional families and their own rotten experiences during this time of the year. Although he captures the film’s Chicago setting in a way that feels authentic, director De Villa seems to have little clue of how to capture the subtleties of human emotion – the volume is set pretty high in this movie. It’s always a pleasure to see actors such as Peña and Rodríguez on theatre screens, but for the most part, there is a token feeling about Nothing Like the Holidays that only makes those splendid performers’ frequent relegation to film roles that emphasize their cultural heritage over their acting capabilities all the more depressing. Only Guzmán, who is equally at home in a drama or a comedy, manages to break somewhat free of those restrictions here in the supporting role of the nephew who acts as if he knows it all. Otherwise, Nothing Like the Holidays feels as rote as any other crappy Christmas movie that makes its way to the cineplex at this time of the year. Feliz Navidad, indeed.
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