Judge Daniel MacDonald is allergic to mistletoe.
Our review of This Christmas (Blu-Ray), published November 20th, 2008, is also available.
You can't exchange family.
Yet another film showing that the holidays lead to hijinks when families are concerned. But it's got Delroy Lindo, it's got to be good—right?
Facts of the Case
Much to the delight of Ma'Dere Whitfield (Loretta Devine, Dreamgirls), all of her children have come home to spend Christmas with her and her secretly live-in boyfriend Joe (Delroy Lindo, Get Shorty). Claude Whitfield (Columbus Short, Accepted) is on leave from military service and has a surprise waiting in a hotel room. Kelli Whitfield (Sharon Leal, Why Did I Get Married?), is a workaholic model, while Mel (Lauren London) is a career student who brought her boyfriend with her. Lisa (Regina King, Jerry Maguire) is stuck in a troubled marriage to Malcom (Laz Alonso, Jarhead), while Quentin (Idris Elba, American Gangster) is a saxophone player on the run from a couple of bookies. Michael "Baby" Whitfield (Chris Brown, Stomp the Yard), still living at home, has career aspirations that he'd rather not share with his mom.
The Whitfield family has more than its fair share of secrets, and most of them are going to come out This Christmas.
In the vein of Home for the Holidays and Beautiful Girls, This Christmas is both a close examination of family politics and a broad statement about unconditional love; these close siblings may not always like each other, but the love is never in doubt. It's eminently predictable, yet the large cast of characters ensures you never quite see where the next scene is going.
Only a single present is ever opened in This Christmas, and it would seem a concerted effort is made to avoid the commercial aspects of the holiday season. There are no trips to the shopping mall, and no one sits on Santa's knee. Instead, the family lounges, drinks, cooks, makes the occasional trip into the city, and basically does what most of us do at this time of year—simply be with loved ones. It's a refreshingly mature take on the holiday movie genre.
Writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II (Crossover) walks a fine line between comedy and drama, with scenes mostly—but not always—grounded in reality. The downside of never really committing to either, though, is that the funny stuff rarely made me laugh out loud, and the drama is only sporadically moving. Instead, the picture is content to be interesting and engaging. It's even entertaining, but as more of a cumulative effect than with major highs and lows.
The most effective storyline involves Lisa's marriage issues, thanks in large part to Regina King's suppressed characterization and Laz Alonso's believable portrayal of a major asshole—you buy them as a couple thrown together by circumstance, and the inevitable serving of just desserts is satisfying. The weakest finds Baby Whitfield secretly pursuing an oddly forbidden career choice, which feels more like a role being written to an actor's talents than an organic part of the script.
Lindo is the standout, as he often is in his films; his presence commands attention in every scene in which he appears, and his character of Joe is among the most appealing in the picture. But every character is given at least a couple of moments to shine (with the exception of Lisa's two kids, who disappear for long stretches and have no dialogue), and the actors do a uniformly admirable job. The cast comes across truly as family, and a scene early on when the whole household dances together in the living room is warm and genuine (the movie closes with an extended shot of the entire cast dancing for the camera once again, this time out of character).
The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is above average for DVD, with warm earthy hues unmarred by compression artifacts. There are plenty of dark scenes in This Christmas, and the transfer presents deep blacks and sharp contrast.
Music is a big part of the film, and the soundtrack is lively. The surrounds are engaged for all of the musical numbers, as well as atmospherics such as in the nightclub scene, using a full dynamic range and maintaining clear dialogue.
Extras include a short but kind of fun "making-of" featurette, and a chatty commentary with actresses Regina King, Sharon Leal, and Lauren London. Actors' commentaries are not always my brand of whisky, as they were usually only involved with the shooting of the picture rather than the entire pre- and post-production cycles, but these three—obviously friends since making the movie—make for an enjoyable enough listen. Just don't expect too much insight into how the film came to be. Also here is one deleted scene that would've been nice in the final cut, and an extended scene wisely trimmed.
As soon as the major plotlines are established, you know pretty much how things are going to end up in This Christmas, but the movie really surprised me with its well-paced storytelling, solid-across-the-board performances, and multi-layered story. It's a warm-hearted and intelligent holiday tale.
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