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Nothing Like the Holidays

A 2009 movie directed by Alfredo De Villa.

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Light-hearted and entertaining; great performances all-around, thus, a pleasent stocking stuffer.

  • Dec 30, 2011
*** out of ****

If one can get past the countless remakes, modernized adaptations, and clich├ęd love stories that tend to identify with most Christmas fare in the service of film; a film such as "Nothing Like the Holidays" might just come off as, oh I don't know, refreshing. It's a good old fashion family comedy; taking place during the holidays and dealing with a very big family. And while this is, in theory, an ordinary family - how many recent Christmas films are composed of an almost all Latino cast?

As one can predict, I'm about to dedicate an entire paragraph to naming the different members of the family; both by blood and extended. It mostly consists of parents, their kids (all of whom have grown up), and some long-time family friends. The parents are Edy (Alfred Molina) and Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Pena); the kids are Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez), actress Roxanne (Vanessa Ferlito), and Mauricio (John Leguizamo); the friends include Mauricio's wife Sarah (Debra Messing), thug-type Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), Jesse's ex-girlfriend Marissa(Melonie Diaz), and flamboyant joker Johnny (Luis Guzman).

Jesse has just returned home from Iraq; and his family embraces him with open arms. Everyone is at home for the holidays; and it appears to have been a while since this has last happened. Once everyone has arrived, the great big family settles down for a nice dinner; which ends on a not-so-nice note. There are tensions and personal demons brought to the table amongst the good food; which will get in the way of the family's happiness throughout the story.

There's a secret that father Edy feels he must keep, the possibility of a divorce for him and Anna, and some flawed relationships between other characters as well. But as you can probably tell, this is a Christmas comedy of warmth and heart; thus, everything will turn out for the best in the end. We know this - when walking in, at least - and if we're smart enough, we won't hold it against the film that it's as predictable as it is. Christmas movies almost always have to follow some sort of formula - especially when they're in the mainstream - nowadays, and "Nothing Like the Holidays" is one of the best holiday comedies I've seen in a long time. It may be sappy, but not in an annoying or preachy way. It's heartfelt, funny, and honest.

For starters, the screenplay is smart; and it works, in part, because of the casting, which simply couldn't be any better. The actors get to be themselves in each individual role; and we sense that they are having fun with it all the way through. But then again, there are a few moments in the film meant to elicit some kind of emotion - perhaps one that is even, say, strong - so these performers are required to break free from the joy and develop into something more and something deeper, if only for a few moments. They are more than capable of doing so.

The film is set in Chicago; a good choice of location for the story, I think. It gives the characters a lot to do, and some places to go, especially when certain ones (in particular) need some private time with a selected other. There's a wonderful scene where Roxanne and Ozzy go for a stroll at a local ice-rink; the conversation is heartfelt, the location is a perfect fit, and the atmosphere is warm enough to drown out the cold. There is indeed a surplus of other wonderful scenes to top it off in this movie; although it wouldn't do me much good to describe all - or any more - of them. I might lose some credibility.

Think about why you go to Christmas movies in the first place. Do you go to simply watch the movie and bitch about it afterwards? Do you hate the predictability, the melodrama, and (gasp) even the warmth of the moment? If you're that sort of Grinch, then you won't find anything to like from this film; because it picks a narrative style and that is one of tradition. Sure, the film has its flaws - there are a lot of characters and therefore a lot of stories; some of them are better explored and fleshed-out than others - but that didn't stop me from accepting the fact that "Nothing Like the Holidays" is simply nothing like most of the other Christmas movies of recent. And if that, a great cast, smart dialogue, and a lot of heart aren't enough to truly satisfy you; then you've got a nigh incurable case of killjoy.

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January 01, 2012
Yeah, this was decent and had great intentions, but I thought the direction needed some polishing up. Nice one, Ryan....
More Nothing Like the Holidays reviews
review by . December 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Trying Not To Be Your Usual American Holiday Movie....
Movies about the Christmas Holiday tone are a dime-a-dozen. Truthfully, most movies have the same plot clichés, themes and Holiday cheers. Director Alfredo De Villa's "Nothing Like the Holidays" is nothing different; family issues, disappointments and hope abound in this dramedy. It does have a very strong Puerto Rican theme to it; with full emphasis on Puerto Rican which I enjoyed, it was something different. The film is directed by Alfredo De Villa who was responsible for …
review by . May 10, 2010
posted in WHAT CAN I SAY?
This review was written before my mother passed.      NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS       When watching this movie I noticed something crazy going on and it hit home with me a little, well more so than that. This movie more or less is actually happing to me right now, so that may affect how much I like or dislike this film. This may be a spoiler so you may want to turn away now if you don't want to know. But as of now during Christmas my family has come together …
review by . December 12, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
This isn't a feel-good holiday movie. In fact, you kind of feel bad for this family - and the movie. It's a really odd and uncomfortable assortment of hoodlums, war vet, high-powered hedge-fund managers, and bickering parents. At points, the movie seems to gel and convey a poignant story - particular Debra Messing and her father-in-law. But at other times, it seems as if "Nothing like the Holidays" is torn between several themes and was emotionally confusing. At the end of the day, the movie just …
review by . November 19, 2009
Heartwarming holiday tail about Christmas with the Rodriguez family. The entire clan has gathered in Chicago to spend the holidays at the family homestead; one son is returning from a tour of duty in Iraq; the other "successful" son is trying to balance his wife's career aspirations with his desire for a child and his mother's yearning for a grandchild, while the Rodriguez daughter returns home from Hollywood with admissions that her life is not as successful and glamourous as otherwise thought...all …
review by . November 17, 2009
I'm a holiday movie addict. I love anything set to Christmas time. Well almost anything.    What I don't care for are movies that rely on time-tested story material with only minor changes based on family ethnicity and general dynamics.    I'm a realist; many American holiday tales look the same from family to family regardless of cultural heritage. Having been raised in several ethnically diverse households, the biggest differences lie in what we eat, when …
review by . November 10, 2009
I think that Christmas movies deserve to be regarded with a separate set of criteria than that applied to the rest of cinema. If the movie revolves around the Christmas holiday, we're likely to forgive the extra cliche' or manipulative tear-jerking moment that might just cost a non-holiday ensemble comedy a star or two. So with that said, Nothing Like the Holidays might just be worth adding to your collection of DVDs. How better to amuse the out-of-town family guests (or their adolescent kids) during …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Alfred De Villa (WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, YELLOW) directs this tale of a Puerto Rican family gathering at their family home in Chicago's Humboldt Park for the holidays. On the surface, the Rodriguez family has much to be thankful for this Christmas. Eldest son Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a lawyer on the verge of making partner and his wife is a Wall Street dynamo (Debra Messing), daughter Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is a movie star, and youngest son Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) has just returned home from a tour in Iraq. For the first time in years, the three siblings will all be home for the holidays, and their parents, Anna (Elizabeth Peqa) and Eduardo (Alfred Molina), are elated. Except that Mauricio's wife isn't Puerto Rican, and despite her mother-in-law's constant pleas, she's in no rush to have a baby. Meanwhile, Roxanna is more of a struggling actress then a star, and Jesse is having a hard time adjusting to regular life and facing Marissa (Melonie Diaz), the "one that got away" when he enlisted.IfNothing Like the Holidaysappears 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 ...
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DVD Release Date: October 27, 2009
Runtime: 98 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

First to Review

"Christmas Comedy"
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