5.5
Movies  |  Reviews

Nothing Like the Holidays

December 12, 2008  |  2:00pm
Nothing Like the Holidays
Release date: Dec. 12
Director: Alfredo De Villa
Writers: Alison Swan, Rick Najera, Robert Teitel, Rene M. Rigal
Cinematographer: Scott Kevan
Starring: Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña, Freddy Rodríguez, Luis Guzmán, Jay Hernandez, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Vanessa Ferlito, Melonie Diaz
Studio/Run Time: Overture Films, 99 mins.

Serviceable holiday romp thrives on cast

Is it really a cynical gesture to cast Hispanics in the reunion holiday-comedy staple and call it new? It doesn’t have to be, and it isn’t really in Nothing Like the Holidays, the cheerfully broad new comedy about a Puerto Rican family whose grown children return to Chicago for Christmas. The conventions of these films have become so streamlined that each new title is clearly an attempt to cash in on the goodwill of the season, and this risk-free, harmless movie’s rewrite of the usual formula is no more dishonorable than any of the annual offenders.

In that spirit, it's fair to assume the people who can stomach such movies know who they are. That goes double for those who can’t. Whether or not to see Nothing Like the Holidays should be decided strictly along those lines, but for those of us who opt in, the movie is a serviceable, occasionally funny tour of the tropes that have made this genre work for years.

Sure, the movie pushes some candy-coated buttons (a son is a recent Iraq veteran, and immigration jokes abound), but mostly it’s the same matriarchical overdrive, old sibling conflicts and lost romance from back in the day. Same people, different dishes on the dinner table, though in truth it is the largely Hispanic cast that brings real virtue to the movie—mostly because it provides an opportunity to spend time with underused actors. When's the last time Freddy Rodríguez got to reprise the soulful, anguished sincerity of his Six Feet Under years, or Jay Hernandez was in a movie where he wasn't on the run from some primal threat? These might be stock Hollywood roles, but as is always the case, the right cast can bring them to unexpected life.

Watch the trailer for Nothing Like the Holidays:

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