A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, like most contemporary holiday movies, this film features a large, loud, "dysfunctional" family dealing with lots of issues. One son has just come back from Iraq and could have post-traumatic stress, another has a Jewish wife who doesn't get along with his mother, and the parents are on the verge of divorce, to name just a few of the family's problems. While young kids may not be interested, 'tis the season for family movies, so be aware that there's drinking, sexual innuendo, and several passionate kisses, as well as some use of anguage like "s--t" and "a--hole." There's also a subplot involving a reformed gang member's beef with the guy who killed his brother, as well as a few other Latino stereotypes. But overall, it's a mostly positive portrayal of a Hispanic family's Christmas traditions.
What's the story?
The Rodriguez siblings are returning to Chicago's Humboldt Park for a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas at their parents' house. Youngest son Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) has just returned injured from a tour in Iraq, daughter Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is an L.A.-based actress, and oldest son Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a New York attorney with a successful Jewish wife (Debra Messing) who isn't too keen on making her meddling mother-in-law (Elizabeth Peña) an abuela. Meanwhile, bodega-owning Papi (Alfred Molina) seems to be having an affair, which leads Mami to loudly declare at the dinner table that she's planning to divorce her husband of 36 years.
Is it any good?
Rodriguez is a fantastic actor who deserves more leading roles; his Iraq vet is just the right mix of tortured and relieved. When he looks at his lovely ex-girlfriend (indie darling Melonie Diaz), you can feel the longing. Comedians Leguizamo and his on-screen cousin Luis Guzman get the best lines without showboating, and heartthrob Jay Hernandez pops up as a Mexican-American friend of the family who used to be a thug. Reformed gang-bangers are as boring a role as they come for Latino actors, but Hernandez is a charming operator. The film is just like the role: predictable and cheesy but funny and sweet -- or, as we Latinos say, sabroso.
Most ethnic-family Christmas films (or basically all holiday films) are incredibly similar. There's the food-obsessed mama; the bickering, regressing siblings; the prodigal son; and a dash of cultural stereotyping to exaggerate the family's "ethnic" issues. But despite its inherently formulaic nature, NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS features a believable cast (even though most of them aren't actually Puerto Rican) that turns the overly familiar story into a sweet, funny addition to the genre.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about holiday traditions. How does the Rodriguez family's Christmas celebration differ from those portrayed in other holiday movies?
How is it different than your own holiday customs?
What Latino stereotypes does the film explore? Do you think it reinforces or dispels them? What scenes in the movie are similar to those in other Christmas films?
Do audiences expect certain things from holiday movies? If so, what -- and why?
- In theaters: December 12, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: October 20, 2009
- Cast: Alfred Molina, Freddy Rodriguez, John Leguizamo
- Director: Alfredo De Villa
- Studio: Overture Films
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including some sexual dialogue, and brief drug references
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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