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Nothing Like The Holidays
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by brianorndorf

"Christmas in the cultural treehouse"
3 stars

“Nothing Like the Holidays” is a Puerto Rican Christmas movie, with emphasis on the PUERTO RICAN. A flavorful banquet of yuletide neuroses, a ticket to “Nothing” should come with a seat belt to best endure the roller coaster of melodrama that makes up the majority of this dramedy. It just wouldn’t be Christmas if there wasn’t a group of actors pushed into a room together with thin characterization, forced to fight for limited screentime.

The holidays are in full swing at the Rodriguez household, with parents Eduardo (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Pena) welcoming their children back to the family’s Chicago dwelling for the festivities. For Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez), it’s his first visit home after three years serving in Iraq, reuniting with an ex-girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) who’s moved on; Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is a struggling actress afraid to reveal her failures to the family; and Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is still coming to terms with his career-minded wife (Debra Messing), and wanting to start a family at the behest of his mother. Brought together out of obligation, the weekend provides a fruitful psychological scrubbing for the family, with every guest holding a secret just aching to be revealed.

Not to be confused with the frighteningly similar “This Christmas” from 2007, “Nothing” waves its cultural heritage like a badge, spending plenty of screentime reminding the audience this is a PUERTO RICAN Christmas movie, preferably for PUERTO RICANS. The cultural divide is a little off-putting at first (along with a horde of obnoxious product plugs), but the film eventually warms to universal themes of familial distress that director Alfredo De Villa mines for adequate emotional release.

Truthfully, “Nothing” is a big red-and-green felt bag of clichés that De Villa doesn’t have control over, wrestling an uneven screenplay that lurches back and forth between slapstick and sobering drama. The film is in constant tonal distress, making the viewing experience irritating at times, especially when subplots of worth are shortchanged to keep feeding bizarre strains of melodrama that emerge from out of nowhere, typically sold with uncharacteristic motivations. There’s no reason for the feature to stick to a single tone for safety’s sake, but the revolving door of trouble for the Rodriguez clan is exhausting, removing necessary narrative patience from the final product to offer up a plethora of trauma so the cast won’t be bored. In De Villa’s hands, “Nothing” is in a spectacular hurry to go nowhere.

If the filmmaking fails to a certain degree, the charisma of the performers picks up the slack. The ensemble is flat-out wonderful, embodying a semi-believable (Leguizamo is only three years younger than “mom” Pena) clan of troublemakers who use the holiday in a classic Festivus “airing of grievances” manner. Pena and Molina are the real stars here, lending the feature some needed gravitas with a manipulative divorce/hidden illness subplot that is kept in check by their extensive gifts. The “kids” are fun with the little they’re allowed to do, and the group interplay is enjoyable to watch.

“Nothing Like the Holidays” has a personality and a rowdy bunch of actors. If only the production trusted their natural charisma over plodding shovelfuls of melodrama.

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originally posted: 12/13/08 06:59:01
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  12-Dec-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Oct-2009


  DVD: 27-Oct-2009

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