In the first thirty minutes of Nothing Like the Holidays, a new seasonal film starring Alfred Molina and John Leguizamo, many story lines are introduced. There is a troubled Iraq vet back for Christmas for the first time in three years, unresolved feelings about a former girlfriend, accusations of infidelity and racial stereotyping. It may not sound like it, but it’s also a comedy. It’s Coming Home, Home for the Holidays, The Family Stone with a hint of Lucy and Ricky all rolled into one stale Yule Log.
Like many Christmas movies that came before it, Nothing Like the Holidays treats the Yule season as a cinematic excuse to showcase a family who loves one another but doesn’t get along. In this case it is the Rodriguez family gathering in Chicago at their parent’s home to celebrate the season and brother Jesse’s (Freddy Rodriguez) safe return from Iraq. Over the course of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day it is uncovered that sister Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito), an actress, isn’t exactly setting the Hollywood studios on fire; that brother Mauricio (John Leguizamo) and his uptight wife Sarah (Debra Messing) aren’t as happy as believed and the parents, Anna (Elizabeth Peña) and Eduardo (Afred Molina), are getting a divorce after thirty-six years. Will the healing power of the season bring them together, or will this be their last Christmas together?
Nothing Like the Holidays is an average TV Christmas movie re-gifted for the big screen. The basic themes and plot devices are nothing we haven’t seen done before and better in The Family Stone, This Christmas or Home for the Holidays. The big twist is cultural—this time the family in question is Puerto Rican! The loud and boisterous family gives the film some energy, but the situations are so predictable that the film struggles to maintain the audience’s interest.
Former Oz star Luis Guzmán is the film’s comic relief. When he wonders why his brother and his waspy wife haven’t produced a “Sorta Rican” it provides the film’s best line, but too often the comedy gets in the way of the drama and visa versa. Tender moments collide with slapstick and it makes for uneven viewing.
Adding some weight to the cast is Alfred Molina, who, despite an ever shifting accent brings warmth to the role of the family patriarch and Elizabeth Peña who makes the most of her limited role as the mother. Of the rest of the cast John Leguizamo sleepwalks through his part as the hotheaded attorney son while, as his wife, Debra Messing does her best to bring some of her sitcom chops to a very thinly written character.
Despite its good intentions Nothing Like the Holidays is something like a lot of other movies we’ve seen before, and might be best seen next year when it can be rented from the bargain bin.