Pat Young

NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS: A funeral director once told me that death has a way of bringing out everyone’s true feelings. Nowadays the same can be said of holiday reunion movies like this one about a working-class Puerto Rican family in Chicago. The grown-up “children” in from out of town include the usual types, such as the rising New York attorney (John Leguizamo) and his professionally ambitious wife (Debra Messing), the struggling actress (Vanessa Ferlito), and the troubled son (Freddy Rodriguez) just back from Iraq. Of course, their parents (Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena) are having issues as well despite being the hub around which all other family members rotate. As formulaic as this movie is, I still found it to be better than its kind usually is because the screenplay by Rick Najera and Alison Swan ably fleshes out each character to the full extent. It helps, too, that the ensemble cast are all quite good with special mention going to the always funny Luis Guzman (TRAFFIC) as a boisterous cousin and Pena (LA BAMBA), who’s completely believable in the matriarch role even though I know she can’t be more than ten years older that any of the actors playing her “kids.” Some of the storylines are more convincing than others and the film opts for the happy ending when a realistic one might have delivered more of a narrative payoff. Even if this film never enters the realm of “Christmas classic” (See sidebar below), it’s still well-acted and well-written enough to be the kind of work that will turn up every December on some cable channel where it will be appreciated for its blend of comedy and drama plus the universality of its family situation.

EXCELLENT MOVIES TO PUT YOU IN THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951), A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), DIE HARD (1988), HOLIDAY INN (1942), IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947), NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989), THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993), THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994).

Have a safe and Merry Christmas! Peace.