It's Christmastime and the far-flung members of the Rodriguez family are converging at their parents' home in Chicago to celebrate the season and rejoice in their youngest brother's safe return from combat overseas. For Jesse, coming home has rekindled feelings for an old flame, although she can't seem to forgive him for leaving. His older sister Roxanna, a struggling actress, has been chasing her Hollywood dreams for years with little to show for it. And much to the dismay of their mother Anna, eldest brother Mauricio brings home a high-powered executive wife who would rather raise capital than a child. In the course of one eventful week, traditions will be celebrated, secrets revealed and major life decisions made. It all begins when Anna announces to her children she is divorcing their father Eduardo. The shock waves from this familial upheaval prompt Roxanna, Mauricio and Jesse, each in their own way, to reevaluate the past and rethink the future. But when the Rodriguezes learn that one of their own is facing a true crisis, they instinctively pull together: Old resentments are forgotten, familial bonds are re-affirmed and the healing power of laughter works its magic as the family discovers they are much stronger than they ever realized.
If Nothing Like the Holidays
appears to have little in common with Frank Capra's small-town perennial It's a Wonderful Life, Alfredo De Villa's urban dramedy also mixes the bitter with the sweet. The fireworks begin when Eduardo and Anna Rodriguez (Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Peña) welcome their Puerto Rican brood to celebrate Christmas in Chicago: Iraq War veteran Jesse (Illinois native Freddy Rodríguez), struggling actress Roxanna (Death Proof’s Vanessa Ferlitto), and attorney Mauricio (John Leguizamo) and his tightly-wound spouse, Sarah (Debra Messing). While Roxanna finds herself drawn to family friend Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), a former gang-banger, Jesse struggles with his feelings for ex-girlfriend Marissa (Melonie Diaz), who's moved on in his absence, and Anna laments her lack of grandchildren, but when she announces she's divorcing Edy, a bodega proprietor, the entire clan decides to make the most of their last holiday together. If De Villa's intentions are honorable, and his cast is up to the task--especially Molina and Rodríguez--the two halves of his film make for an awkward fit. Jesse's shell-shocked veteran, for instance, belongs to a different movie than that of his wisecracking cousin, Johnny (Luis Guzmán). Then, when Ozzy picks up a gun in an act of revenge, domestic drama and ethnic comedy collide with the hood flick. Unlike the many brash and materialistic entertainments crowding the multiplex at the end of the year, Nothing Like the Holidays
prioritizes cultural and emotional matters, but still registers as more of a missed opportunity than a contemporary classic. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Stills from Nothing Like the Holidays (Click for larger image)