Staring: John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena
Directed by: Alfred De Villa, Luis Guzman
Nothing Like the Holidays is a warm, family friendly movie set in Humbolt Park, Chicago. The Rodriguez family reunites for the holiday season after 3 years in opposite corners of the country to catch up and welcome back one of their own after a tour in Iraq. Drama follows as rivalries reignite, loves are lost and found again, and generational bonds are strained and strengthened. The movie fits in well with the family reunion movie canon somewhere between Soul Food and The Family Stone. The Rodriguezes, while Puerto Rican, are very relatable and reflect one of the many stories of the American family.
Leguizamo plays Mauricio, the slightly overbearing New York based brother who is married to Sarah, played by Debra Messing, an up and coming hedge fund manager. Alfred Molina is Edy, the family patriarch, who struggles to hold on to his standing as head of the household while holding onto a life changing secret. Elizabeth Pena brings Puerto Rican motherhood to life as Anna Rodriguez. Luiz Guzman is the amiable cousin Johnny, whose words of advice are delivered with colorful eloquence. This very respectable cast is joined by Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriguez as Jesse, an Iraq war veteran still trying to find himself. Vennessa Ferlito is Roxanna, a struggling actor deciding between home and dreams of stardom. Jay Hernandez as Ozzy balances his past with the possibility of a stable future, while Melanie Diaz plays Marissa, a family friend with complicated connections to the Rodriguez siblings.
The movie tries very hard to be relatable to the general audience and succeeds in that attempt. Perhaps most notably when the family joins the neighborhood parranda (a Puerto Rican caroling tradition) singing “The First Noel” (in English) to the accompaniment of maracas and tambourines. Messing also provides a relatable bridge between the Latino and non-Latino traditions by playing the outsider without the stereotypical “white-person-clueless-ness.” The directors and writers correctly avoided forcing “spanglish” dialogue onto this 2nd and 3rd generation family, and what Spanish is included is done with authenticity – Anna’s “Aye, Dios Mio!” while Mauricio struggles with a chainsaw is as real as it can get.
The movie lacks a bit of focus on some of the character plot lines, which seem to compete for the attention of the audience. This could have been 4 or 5 different movies centering on any of the Rodriguezes, but like the family dinner scene suggests, there is no time to focus on just one thing. The plots simply talk over each other, a cacophony of sound and images. That could be Mr. De Villa’s point, to create a movie that mirrors the anarchy of family life. I suspect viewers’ reactions will differ on its effectiveness.
The movie is a good diversion during this particularly bleak holiday season by reminding us that in unity and family one can find the strength to tackle internal and external struggles. However, from a busy dad’s perspective, unless you are a big fan or are looking for something a little different but comforting, it may not be worth the precious few moments you have during this extra busy time of year. I suspect the movie will do great on DVD and cable after its run in the theaters because it lends itself very well to a quiet afternoon on the couch with the wife or extended family. Despite the rating, there isn’t much for the kids other than a few slapstick moments. I wouldn’t count this movie out completely though; even It’s a Wonderful Life took time to become a Christmas favorite.
Your Daddy Time: Worth It or Wasted? Wasted. 3/5 Stars
The Rating System is for dads who need to know one thing- Is this movie WORTH IT to:
* Pack up the kids, bags, etc and trek to the theater – or
* Find a babysitter so Dad can have a date night – or
* Cash in brownie points with the Mrs. so he can go with his buddies
If it doesn’t fit these simple criteria, the movie gets the WASTED rating, which means – don’t waste the precious time you have, wait for video/cable when you can squeeze it between chores, work and sleep.
Miguel Guadalupe (he’s the one on the right) grew up in New York City and currently resides in New Jersey. He is an Account Executive at FirstRain, a search-based research company for investment Professionals, and has worked in financial services for over 10 years. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he currently volunteers for various alumni and community organizations, and is the proud father of a talkative and tenacious toddler.
Miguel Guadalupe is a Director at Gartner Inc, a technology research company. Miguel (he’s the one in the middle) grew up in New York City and currently resides in New Jersey. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he currently volunteers for various alumni and community organizations, and is the proud father of a two beautiful girls.