Anchor Bay // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // November 18th, 2009
They're just a typical American family. Minus the typical.
As far as Christmas movies go, Alfredo De Villa's Nothing Like the Holidays certainly isn't a bad effort. It's by no means a masterpiece, but it succeeds in generating the kind of joyful holiday spirit many viewers are looking for this time of the year.
Christmas is just around the corner, and that means it's time for the Rodriguez family to converge in Chicago to celebrate the season together in harmony. Sadly enough, things don't exactly go according to plan. Instead of bringing home a bunch of presents, everybody arrives packed with personal problems...
Nothing Like the Holidays is not the first film in which members of an eccentric family work out personal issues just in time for Christmas, and it sure won't be the last. That said, De Villa's film has a lot of heart, and that's exactly what separates it from other big-budget holiday films that willingly sacrifice story for cheap laughs. It doesn't revitalize the genre or offer viewers something they haven't seen before, but it boasts accessible humor and features warm-hearted characters you'll find quite amusing to observe.
Nothing Like the Holidays doesn't have any big surprises. When the film opens, we meet a lot of characters struggling with issues they don't really want to confront; by the time the end rolls around, everybody's happy and all the problems are solved. Still, Nothing Like the Holidays is blessed with a solid dose of spicy humor that moves the plot forward at a decent pace.
The success of the film largely depends on who the characters are and how they address their conflicts, and it's rather refreshing to watch the Rodriguez clan work out their differences onscreen. Essentially, the whole mess starts when Anna (Elizabeth Pena) tells her kids she wants to divorce her husband Edy (Alfred Molina), and, with her issue out on the table, it's then up to everyone else to unpack as well.
From dealing with broken dreams to saving a chaotic relationship and trying to reconnect with an old flame, Anna's children all have a hard time trying to figure out who they are and where they really belong, but as they leaner throughout the movie, only the power of family can hold them together and send them off into the right direction. It's a simple formula, but it certainly works in this film.
What keeps the film alive and prevents it from losing energy is the fabulous cast. Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena deliver fine, honest performances as the Rodriguez parents, and John Leguizamo and especially Vanessa Ferlito are totally delightful to watch. Debra Messing and Luis Guzman don't quite feel as authentic as the rest of the gang, but I wouldn't go as far as calling their performances annoying. That said, the solid acting really gives Nothing Like the Holidays that something special it needs in order not to be qualified as yet another shallow Christmas flick.
On Blu-ray, the film looks good. The disc's 2.35:1 widescreen transfer boasts a crisp image throughout, even though I couldn't help but notice that select interior shots look a tad too grainy for my taste. Other than that, the film delivers a solid picture quality for a feature set mainly inside. The Dolby TrueHD audio transfer totally works for me as well, and the sound is always crisp and well-balanced.
Besides a second disc that includes a digital copy of the film, the bonus material on this edition features some funny bloopers and an 11-minute cast reunion during which some of the cast members discuss their experiences shooting the movie and the challenges they encountered on set.
For those who would really like to know everything about how the film got made, I can only recommend the picture-in-picture commentary with cast and crew members, who talk about the story, their characters, and everything else related to the making of Nothing Like the Holidays. If that's not enough, check out the feature audio commentary with actor Freddy Rodriguez, producer Robert Teitel and director Alfredo De Villa, who shed some extra light on how they went about the filming.
Don't go looking for any new big lessons in this film. Nothing Like the Holidays is standard material in the story department, but energetic characters and talented actors make it worth the investment. It's a simple holiday movie with heart and soul, and that's all it needs to be.
Review content copyright © 2009 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Cast Reunion
* Digital Copy
* Official Site