Posted: 11/21/2009

 

Nothing Like the Holidays

(2008)

by Jef Burnham



Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment.


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Nothing Like the Holidays opens with the Rodriguez clan converging on their family home in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, just in time for Christmas. As with any other family holiday picture, the members of the Rodriguez family must cope with failures, jealousy, rivalry, illness, lost love, affairs, etc. until they overcome their adversities and come together in the end as a happier, stronger family. It is funny, occasionally touching and often melodramatic. But frankly, all these things are what a family holiday film should have. The unlikely juxtaposition of families fighting and rampant sentimentality is really what the holidays are all about.

Aside from the cliché family structure and denouements that can be predicted within two seconds of meeting a character, I can’t say as there is anything particularly wrong with Nothing Like the Holidays, except that there are better films of the sort. Namely, it draws comparisons to Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays (1995), about a slightly more dysfunctional family gathering at Thanksgiving. Both films share much in the way of tone, direction, and stellar casts, but Home for the Holidays’ cast of characters is much less stock in execution, if not concept.

The Rodriguez family are predictably as follows: The mother, Anna (Elizabeth Peña), wants a grandchild. The father, Edy (Alfred Molina) seems to be having an affair. Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a businessman residing in New York with his Caucasian, Wall Street wife, Sarah (Deborah Messing), both of whom are far too busy to provide his mother with a grandchild. Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is a desperate, out-of-work actress living in L.A., but the family thinks she is actually incredibly successful— an image she does not contradict. And Jesse (Freddy Rodriquez) is a marine, returning after his tour in Iraq, who must face the horrors he saw oversees, and also vies for his embittered ex-girlfriend’s affections.

This all seems a little trite. But who am I to talk? If I saw a holiday movie about my own family, I’d say the same thing. My mother is perpetually ill and obsessed with her favorite singer since childhood. I’m a struggling writer living in Chicago with my wife— both of us too busy to have children. My younger brother just returned from Iraq himself. And my youngest brother is a skateboarder who still lives at home. So there is definitely truth in Nothing Like the Holidays’ formula, even if said formula is a tired one.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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