Nothing Like the Holidays is a Kinko's copy of This Christmas, which was an African-American homage to The Family Stone. There's nothing new under the mistletoe in this warm but generic family-stressing-for-the-holidays dramedy.
But solid writing and good acting put the Latin-flavored Nothing on par with its many forebears. A who's who of Latin talent make this ensemble piece hit all the familiar sentimental notes, even if those notes are played out.
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The far-flung Rodriguez clan is returning to Humboldt Park in Chicago for Christmas. There's Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito of Grindhouse), the "movie star," but really just a struggling actress trying to make it in L.A. Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a New York lawyer who married well but married Jewish (Debra Messing). And Jesse (Freddie Rodriguez) is the prodigal son, who went into the military, to Iraq, where he was wounded, just to escape working in the family bodega.
Alfred Molina, who once starred in The Perez Family, is patriarch of the Rodriguez family. The great Elizabeth Peña (Lone Star) is entirely too young to be playing the matriarch, a grump who has tired of her man's 36 years of flirting around and is talking divorce. The children notice Dad's many secretive cell-phone chats, too.
Everybody has a secret in this family with "issues."
There are the grandchildren Mom nags for and the career that Mrs. Mauricio has put first. Messing does well enough by the "white girl" who doesn't quite fit in, whose attempts at Spanish only lead to insults.
Jesse has an old flame to confront (Melonie Diaz of Be Kind Rewind), Roxanna a local hunk (Jay Hernandez) to avoid getting herself entangled with. And Cousin Johnny (Luis Guzmán, of course) is here for comic relief.
But for a Latin holiday picture, Nothing Like the Holidays is awfully whitebread. The plot is too familiar, and that's more noticeable because there's no spice, only a smidgen of Spanish and Spanglish among these Puerto Rican Chicagoans. Even the Christmas caroling they do in a La Posada holiday procession is in English.
So they're assimilated — everything they confront is universal. Is this a great country or what? But that robs this film by Alfredo de Villa (Washington Heights) of purpose. Without that difference, Nothing Like the Holidays is a movie making a "We're all the same" point, a point that makes one wonder, "Why make the movie, then?"