Posted: 12/18/2008


Nothing Like the Holidays


by Laura Tucker

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Nothing Like the Holidays wasn’t ashamed to show us its culture. Built around a Hispanic family enjoying the holiday season, they didn’t pull any punches. Each one of the family members told it like it was, starting with their mother, a proud woman who wants the best for her children and isn’t afraid to say so. Meek is not her middle name.

Elizabeth Peña plays Anna, the matriarch of the Rodriguez clan from Humboldt Park in Chicago. She has her children spread out all over the world, as Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is living in New York with his Jewish wife, Sarah (Debra Messing), a high-powered executive, Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) has moved out to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) is returning home from the war in Iraq, which is compared to being like “when Jordan came back to the United Center.”

Edy Rodriguez (Alfred Molina), Anna’s husband and the father to her children, owns a neighborhood store where everyone seems to be family, and his dream is to semi-retire and bring in Jesse to run the place. This doesn’t set too well with Jesse, but he can’t bring himself to tell that to his father. Everyone else has their own problems. Roxanna hasn’t been successful in the very least in L.A., but can’t seem to be honest with her family, telling them she’s waiting to find out if a pilot she’s filmed is going to be picked up. Mauricio wants to start a family, but it’s not clear whether it’s because his mother wants him to or whether he wants to. Sarah secretly landed another job that will keep her even more busy away from the the home and from starting a family.

With all this going on, everyone settles down for their first family meal in three years, and while everyone is uncomfortable with their own secrets, they become even more so once Anna drops a bombshell on them. She is leaving Edy. He had an affair several years ago, and now he is ignoring her and sneaking around on a cell phone all the time, so she knows he’s at it again. All three kids get mad at her for doing this to their dad and leave the table, leaving Anna and Sarah alone.

The humor is mostly built around the Rodriguez family’s Puerto Rican heritage. At a point I worried it would become stereotypical, but it never really did, just being so real. Every time Anna wants to cut down Sarah, she talks over her in Spanish, making us understand her feeling like a fish out of water. They all talk over each other at the dinner table, and Mauricio has to explain to his wife that they’re not fighting, but “conversating.” The best, though, is the egg nog being served directly from the Bacardi bottle.

It’s the joy and pain of family life, real family life, not just things that are resolved in a half hour sitcom, that brings the heart of the film. While Anna doesn’t like that Sarah is more business-oriented than family-oriented, it’s really these two that are the most alike. Sarah is the only one in the family as strong as her mother-in-law. After everyone has left the dinner table in disgust, Sarah refuses to, complimenting Anna on the meal with a certain quiet resolve. As the three adult children sit around bemoaning not wanting to visit their dad in a lonely apartment on Christmas Eve the following year, Sarah is the only one that understands what Anna is doing now is something she needs to do for herself and her own self respect.

What makes Nothing Like the Holidays unique is the story as it follows a Hispanic family and their traditions, but what brings it home for all of us is the warmth of the way the family relates to each other and watching them go through the pains of secrets and lies, knowing that’s what breaks apart every family.

Laura Tucker is a freelance writer concentrating on entertainment reviews.

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