Rating: 2.5 stars
Nothing Like the Holidays delivers on its promise: It’s an overstuffed, warm-hearted holiday movie about a Puerto Rican family, with lots of family melodrama, a few group hugs, a healthy dose of ethnic humor, and not a single untelegraphed moment. Chekhov it ain’t, but it has a certain comfort-food-like appeal (only in this case, the comfort food is plantains and rice).
The always earthily charismatic Alfred Molina plays the patriarch of the Rodriguez family, who are together for Christmas for the first time in years. But will it be their last? Oldest son Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a distracted Yuppie lawyer with a gringo wife—Jewish, no less!—played by Debra Messing. Daughter Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is an aspiring actress who has been living in Hollywood. (Her family thinks she’s bigtime because she’s done some commercials and a straight-to-DVD movie.) Finally, there’s Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez), just back from Iraq and scarred both physically and emotionally.
Papa Rodrigeuz simply wants his family to enjoy each other, but inconvenient realities keep getting in the way: Mauricio’s wife Sarah doesn’t want to get pregnant, a Rodriguez family no-no. Jesse is considering a second tour of duty. Roxanna is always on the phone to her agent. And most jarringly, Mama Rodriguez (Elizabeth Pena) announces suddenly that she wants a divorce.
And so it goes. There are many scenes in the kitchen and at the dinner table, some at the family-owned bodega (Papa Rodriguez hopes Jesse will inherit the business); sometimes the family fights—but they always make-up (usually there’s singing and dancing involved); there’s some perfunctory romance (Roxanna takes up a flirtation with family friend Ozzy, played by Jay Hernandez); and a deep-dark secret is revealed that might bring the family together—or tear it apart.
Not to give too much away, but I’d put my money on the happy ending.