Nothing Like the Holidays

| November 2, 2009

Nothing Like the Holidays is unfortunately like some of the worst holidays: hollow, forced, forgettable, and you can’t wait for it to be over. It’s family dysfunction by the numbers, Puerto Rican-style. Patriarch Edy Rodriguez (Alfred Molina) is hiding a life-threatening illness, his wife Anna (Elizabeth Pena) wants a divorce, Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) is just home from Iraq, Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is married to Sarah (Debra Messing) but is worried that she is more married to her career (also, her biological clock is ticking, and Anna wants grandchildren), Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is an actress waiting for her big break, and Johnny (Luis Guzman) intermittently pops up to be loud and obnoxious. Everyone has drama, and none of it is very interesting.
The film is allegedly a comedy, but it’s far too serious, and there is hardly a laugh to be found anywhere. Nothing Like the Holidays, directed laboriously by Alfredo De Villa and with a painfully formulaic and often screechy script by Alison Swan and Rick Najera, collapses under the weight of its over-crowded, heavy-handed melodrama like a Christmas tree with too many ornaments. And speaking of trees, the metaphoric use of an old tree that will not come down, no matter how hard anyone tries (and boy, do they try, especially in one scene that goes on as long as that tree has probably been growing there), is groan-inducing. While there are some nice cultural touches, there’s simply too much unnecessary plot crammed in and too much contrived sentimentality to care much about any of it.
Granted, the movie gets better as it trudges along, and it almost turns tolerable by the end, but that’s due solely to the likeability of the actors. A great, primarily Latino cast has been assembled; it’s just a shame that they didn’t have anything worthwhile to do. They do an adequate enough job, and a few of them, like Debra Messing as the lone non-Latino, Freddy Rodriguez as the traumatized vet, and the always effervescent Vanessa Ferlito as the struggling starlet, have some mildly sparkling moments. Poor Alfred Molina, far too good for hackneyed fare like this, looks bored out of his mind, though he gives it his earnest best. Luis Guzman is truly the quintessential unwelcome family member at this party. His presence is consistently baffling and grating.
Nothing Like the Holidays isn’t the worst of this particular genre, but it’s definitely a family gathering worth skipping.

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