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‘Nothing Like the Holidays’ Does Nothing to Stand Out From Christmas Movie Crowd

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Average: 4.3 (3 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – When it was still called “Humboldt Park” and was probably more closely related to Chicago’s thriving Hispanic neighborhood, Alfredo De Villa’s “Nothing Like the Holidays” was probably a lot more interesting than the cookie-cutter dramedy that ended up on the big screen.

Just as the title was turned more generic, “Holidays” became a film that we’ve seen dozens of times before. It’s a typical family holiday movie that lives and dies on the likeability of its extensive ensemble cast, but that, unfortunately, sacrifices its believable characters due to its emphasis on quantity over quality. Like last year’s “This Christmas”, every character comes to the dinner table not with a fruitcake but with a problem that audiences can expect to be resolved before the credits roll.

There’s something comforting about good holiday movies that make them such an annual staple. We’d all love to think that our family isn’t the only weird or troubled one out there and that the warmth of the holiday season will resolve everyone’s deepest issues just in time for the New Year. But when that believability is pushed to the breaking point with ridiculous behavior and unlikable characters, the subgenre falls apart.

Freddy Rodriguez, John Leguizamo, and Vanessa Ferlito star in Nothing Like the Holidays
Freddy Rodriguez, John Leguizamo, and Vanessa Ferlito star in Nothing Like the Holidays.
Photo credit: Overture Films

The extended family of “Nothing Like the Holidays” is headed by the fiery Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Pena) and her store owner husband Edy (Alfred Molina). Anna believes that her husband has been cheating on her, but he actually hides a much more devastating secret from his entire family.

Nothing Like the Holidays from Overture Films opens on December 12, 2008.
Nothing Like the Holidays from Overture Films opens on December 12, 2008.
Photo credit: Overture Films

The guest of honor this Christmas is Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez), the youngest son of the Rodriguez clan and a soldier returning home from Iraq just in time for eggnog. Not only is Jesse torn over the death of his best buddy in the Middle East, but he has to watch his former girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) finding happiness with a new man.

Just the love triangle with Jesse, the emotional catharsis he needs to get over what happened in the war, his dad’s desire for him to take over the family store, what his father is hiding from everyone, and how it will effect the family would be enough for one Christmas holiday movie, but it’s just the tip of the ice sculpture centerpiece in Alison Swan and Rick Najera’s overcrowded screenplay.

The crowding begins with Roxanna Rodriguez (Vanessa Ferlito), an aspiring actress who worries that her potential role in a new series is forcing her further and further away from the identity she has in her old ‘hood. Meanwhile, Mauricio (John Leguizamo) feels pressure from his mother to have a family but can’t convince his career-driven wife Sarah (Debra Messing) that the time is right to start procreating.

Finally, Jay Hernandez co-stars as a friend of the family (and love interest for Roxanna) who discovers that his brother’s gang-banger murderer has just been released from prison, and Luis Guzman co-stars seemingly because he happened to be hanging around the set.

And all of these characters unleash their secrets at the dinner table to allow for the most yelling, crying, and wasting of food as they stomp away as possible.

Freddy Rodriguez, Debra Messing, John Leguizamo, and Elizabeth Pena star in Nothing Like the Holidays
Freddy Rodriguez, Debra Messing, John Leguizamo, and Elizabeth Pena star in Nothing Like the Holidays.
Photo credit: Overture Films

Not surprisingly, with so many plot threads in one script, it becomes harder and harder to care about the resolution of any of them. Molina and Pena can walk away with their heads held high, having added a bit of gravity to the proceedings, and Rodriguez continues a pattern of being a more interesting actor than the parts he’s being given, but the rest of the cast range from forgettable to annoying. Diaz and Ferlito are both beautiful women, but they’re not given nearly enough to make their performances memorable. Much worse, Leguizamo and Messing, two often-likable actors, are incredibly grating in “Nothing Like the Holidays”. And the extensive supporting cast gets lost in the melodrama.

It feels like there could have been a movie called “Humboldt Park” about a soldier, an actress, and a businessman who have all moved away from the neighborhood that helped define them and how they come home to Chicago to find themselves again. Sadly, that movie is only vaguely visible under the generic sheen of “Nothing Like the Holidays”.

‘Nothing Like the Holidays’ stars Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena, Freddy Rodriguez, Humboldt Park, Luis Guzman, Vanessa Ferlito, Melonie Diaz, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, and Jay Hernandez, ‘Nothing Like the Holidays,’ which was written by Alison Swan and Rick Najera and directed by Alfredo De Villa, opened on December 12, 2008.

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com

brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Anonymous's picture

This movie is OK, in other

This movie is OK, in other countries, there will be also a lot of festival movie which is for holiday. All these movies became the final ending of 2008, and also gain a big honor.

Wendy Ramirez's picture

luv it

I love this movie. Critics need to stop overanalysing every single movie and just let it be. Thats why they are called MOVIES. Its just another holiday movie but its fun. I’m hispanic and it does show how most latino family reunions go down on the holidays. I loved it.

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