Directed By: Afredo De Villa
Starring: Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, Freddy Rodriguez
As a family ages the members get pulled in different directions. Every year it gets harder and harder to get everybody together. That’s what makes it so magical when everybody can make it back home for Christmas.
Edy and Anna Rodriguez, played by Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena, are preparing for the return of their youngest child from Iraq, what makes his return even more special is the that this will be the first time in a number of years that all of their children will be home for Christmas. Jesse is the first to arrive in town, his cousin Johnny, Luis Guzman, and Ozzy, a family friend that helps Edy at the bodega the family owns, pick him up at O’Hare but before they make it to the house they get distracted with an impromptu game of three man baseball game on a snow covered ball field. Meanwhile Mauricio, John Leguizamo, and his wife Sarah, played by Debra Messing, appear at the bodega after flying in from New York. At the same time Anna is alone at home preparing dinner. When Mauricio and Sarah walk in with Edy, Anna is a little put out that they went by the bodega first. Everything is quickly smoothed over. but it’s clear that Sarah and Anna, despite Sarah’s efforts, find it difficult to get along. Next to arrive is Roxanna, she has the airport shuttle drop her off away from the house, so she doesn’t have to explain why she’s not being dropped of by a limo which would be the appropriate way for an up and coming actor to arrive back home from Hollywood. Finally Johnny and Ozzy actually make it to the house with Jesse and the festivities can begin after Anna is done berating Johnny for not bringing her baby straight home.
Of course dinner is not ready quite yet so everybody is sitting around catching up. It doesn’t take long though before good natured ribbing goes a little too far and soon the den is empty, everybody having broken up into little groups. Eventually all of the guys end up outside sipping from flasks and smoking cigars. Edy recruits the other men to come back the next today to help take down an old, dying decrepit tree in the front yard. Combining a bit of clumsy symbolism with a touch of foreshadowing it’s speculated that Edy is referring more to himself than the tree. Once dinner is on the table everybody is back together and amicable, at least until Edy is interrupted by a text message in the middle of making a toast. This is where Anna drops her bombshell. She wants a divorce. This announcement has a chilling effect on the conversation which quickly polarizes and one by one members of the family get up and leave the table in disgust until oddly enough only Sarah and Anna are left.
Of course that’s only the main drama of the movie. Everybody’s got something going on even Ozzy who technically isn’t even part of the family. Jesse’s dealing with the loss of a friend in Iraq and a relationship he now realizes he broke off to soon before he left for Iraq. Mauricio wants to start having children while Sarah is not ready. Roxanna is trying to decide if she wants to continue to stay in Los Angeles and keep trying to make it as an actress or just cal it quits and move back home. Ozzy has to see the Alexis, the man who killed his brother, walking free nearly everyday in the neighborhood since Alexis was released from prison. The script does a wonderful job keeping track of all the little threads without short changing the main storyline. The only issue I ever had with the story is that it times it could be cliché and predictable, luckily the characters are likable or at least interesting enough that those flaws are easy to overlook. I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on the drama, but true to life there is a lot of humor in the story as well. Even at the darkest times humor sneaks into all but the most dysfunctional families, watching from the outside makes it even easier to see the humor. Of course it helps that there are some very funny people in this cast.
The movie appears to have been shot nearly if not entirely on location in a Puerto Rican neighborhood of Chicago called Humboldt Park. This movie is almost a love letter to Humboldt Park. It looks absolutely gorgeous. The clear winter air and white snow, make everything look crisp and clean. The saturated palate make the colorful storefronts and signage pop while at the same time making everywhere look cheery and inviting instead of frigid and cold. The story is interesting but I think I enjoyed just looking at the environment that it’s told in just as much.
The video is presented in wide screen format. It looks great. The whole movie appears to be shot on location but the lighting is always great, producing warm saturated colors which makes the snowy Chicago exteriors oddly welcoming and inviting. I never even noticed any grain, in the darker scenes the shadows just naturally deepened to black. Even with the saturated colors I never noticed any blooming and only the barest hint of aliasing here and there on vertical lines where you would expect to see it.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound in English and Mono in Spanish. There are also English and Spanish subtitles. The score by Paul Oakenfold is beautiful and melancholic and is a wonderful contrast to the upbeat Latin music that is sprinkled here and there throughout the film. The mix is excellent with the score and foley never overpowering the dialog.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in an Eco-Box, a regular Amaray case with some plastic cutaways, yes it sounds gimmicky but it probably does cut down on the plastic used by fifteen to twenty percent. The Eco-Box slips into a cardboard slipcase. Unfortunately the artwork on the slipcase mirrors the artwork on the DVD case. I say unfortunate because the artwork features a nauseating Photoshop monstrosity that I suppose is a family portrait. It’s one of those images that is so bad it’s hard to get out of your head. Of course it’s used on the DVD menu as well. There is a short cast reunion on the DVD which is entertaining but a little odd in that the movie would not have been a year old when it was recorded. There is also the obligatory blooper reel and some trailers and an excellent commentary track with Freddy Rodriquez who not only acted but helped produce the movie, the director Alfredo De Villa and another producer, Robert Teitel round out the commentary.
Nothing Like the Holidays is not a great movie, but it’s entertaining and it’s heart is in the right place. It’s got the beautiful Elizabeth Pena even if she is done up a bit matronly here and the always interesting Luis Guzman that’s two great reasons to pick this up right there. If your looking for a better than decent dramedy Nothing Like the Holidays is not going to blow your socks off, but it’s not going to disappoint either.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10