A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this holiday-themed dramedy includes some mild jokes about sex and drinking, as well as some questionable behavior. The movie's focus is on the bonds among adult siblings and their long-suffering, sometimes narrow-minded mother. Sexual content includes kissing, staying overnight with a new boyfriend, flirting, and cheating. On the violence side, thugs beat up a man who owes them money, and guns are used threateningly in a few scenes. Language includes "s--t," "damn," and "hell." One character smokes several times; characters also drink in bars and during family conflicts.
What's the story?
The Whitfield family reunites for the holidays in this Christmas drama about Ma' Dere (Loretta Devine) and her brood, which includes Michael (Chris Brown), an aspiring singer who hides his talents from his mother because she hasn't gotten over her long-gone musician husband. Oldest son Quentin (Idris Elba), a jazz saxophonist who shows up after four years' absence, projects his anger at Ma' Dere onto her longtime boyfriend (Delroy Lindo), and the reunion reignites the competition between married eldest daughter Lisa (Regina King) and jet-setting model/actress Kelli (Sharon Leal). Eventually the sisters bond: Lisa encourages Kelli's brand-new relationship with local charmer (Mekhi Phifer), and Kelli supports Lisa during her inevitable confrontation with her cheatin' man. Meanwhile, perpetual student Mel (Lauren London) brings home a new boyfriend; and brother Claude (Columbus Short), a Marine, is hiding his own surprise.
Is it any good?
A typical domestic dramedy full of trivial arguments and predictable reconciliations, This Christmas offers one exceptional moment: Chris Brown performing "Try a Little Tenderness" in a club. As soon as Ma' Dere's youngest son steps on stage, murmuring that he's nervous because it's his "first time," it hardly matters what anyone else is doing. He begins to sing, and he's brilliant. He also brings Preston Whitmore's movie to a halt. Some awkward, unnecessary cuts to reaction shots emphasize that Michael's brothers and sisters are astonished, but this one scene is only a drop in the film's large, conventional bucket full of familial deceits and resentments.
While the film makes familial grappling look mostly comic, occasional tensions erupt into full-on fights (Lisa and Kelli go at it on the front lawn, and Lisa finds a particularly physical way to punish Malcolm). Broad and farcical, such moments are less engaging than the film's subtler moments, and mostly just repeat the home-for-the-holidays movie formula. This formula is exactly why Brown's non-Christmas ballad song, so soulful and sweet, feels so refreshing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how movies tend to portray family holiday gatherings. Do you think the frequent tension and conflict (even when played for laughs) is realistic? What are holiday celebrations like in your family? Why do you think the characters in the movie so often resort to lying and keeping secrets? Does it help solve any of their problems?
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