I know what you’re thinking: Another formulaic movie aimed at African Americans? And a Christmas-themed one at that? Great. Walking in, the whole idea just reeked of failure to me; I assumed I’d make it through no more than ten minutes before nodding off in my popcorn. Only a simulcast colonoscopy could be more painful to watch, right? Well, not so fast. Actually, while This Christmas isn’t going to change your life, it doesn’t try to, either. And while it tries to shoehorn too much story into its two-hour running time, it nevertheless manages to be a pretence-free, moderately entertaining way to pass two hours of your life.
In This Christmas, writer/director/producer Preston A. Whitmore II (Crossover) introduces us to the Whitfields, a large African-American family headquartered in the Los Angeles suburban home of family head “Ma’Dear” (Dreamgirls’ Loretta Devine). The story focuses on the week of Christmas, where Ma’Dear welcomes her children and their significant others. The main theme of the film is the idea of secrets we keep from family, and the false rationale that we are protecting them by doing so. The film even begins with Ma’Dear requesting that her long-time boyfriend, Joe Black (Delroy Lindo, NBC’s short-lived “Kidnapped”) help perpetrate the illusion that he doesn’t live there, for the sake of her children.
The Whitfield children each have their individual secrets, ones that seem enormous at first but once revealed aren’t as destructive as originally believed. The main motivation for all the clandestine behavior is Ma’Dear, who still holds hard feelings against Senior, the Whitfield patriarch who left the family in order to follow a career in music. In an effort to dull the pain, she has essentially banned soul and jazz from her house and subconsciously caused her children (especially her sons) to fear upsetting her with their issues. Of course, by film’s end, all the secrets lay unveiled, (almost) all the problems are addressed, and everyone is able to enjoy their Christmas dinner.
The casting is solid, though the assemblage of talent is more than the movie deserved. Devine was superb in her role as Ma’Dear, and Lindo (who also produced) gets to enjoy saving the day as Joe Black. He could have easily embodied a deus ex machine, but Whitmore manages to keep his heroics on a human level. Chris Brown (Stomp The Yard) plays the role of Baby, the youngest of the family, whose particular secret just so happens to revolve around singing, which leads to both of the film’s major musical performances. Brown holds his own in the acting department, but I wouldn’t want him to quit his day job too soon.
An intriguing casting choice was Regina King (Boondocks, Enemy of the State) as the oldest daughter, Lisa. At first it was confusing, since Lisa was supposed to be the put-upon, weak-willed housewife ignored by her family, and as an actress King is mostly known to be the very opposite of that. While she strained credibility at first, during her character’s immensely entertaining vengeance moment, she shines. This is made even the more interesting when comparing Lisa to her sister Kelli (Sharon Leal, “Boston Public”). In these “family reunion” movies, the older sister is usually the one dispensing advice and butting her head in when it isn’t wanted, while the younger sister is the one making the mistakes and acting unsure of her self-worth. Having the two archetypical roles switched made for an interesting dynamic. Indeed, this tweaking of the staid formula, combined with the solid performances, is the film’s greatest strength.
Unfortunately, this strength also enhances the movie’s largest weakness. In an effort to fit all the stories in, the filmmakers ultimately leave some subplots dangling and create glorified extras out of some of the characters. To use an apt holiday metaphor, Whitmore ends up stuffing this stocking with so many goodies that the seams burst and some of the little treats get lost. You’ll still get some satisfaction, but it won’t feel quite complete.
So there you have it. This Christmas may not be perfect, and it’s certainly not original. And like most holiday films, you need a bit of suspension of disbelief. But unless you have a blackened piece of coal in place of your heart that feeds on only pure unadulterated hatred, you’ll likely enjoy it. It’s definitely a better movie if you bring along the family.
And at least it isn’t a Tyler Perry film.
Claude Weaver III aka Vermillion is a mild-mannered student at Morehouse College and budding reality show star. Oh, and he forgot to mention Regina King is in lingerie. Twice. That alone is worth the price of admission. You can get more over at his blog, Vermillion’s Brain Receptacle.
This Christmas / Claude Weaver III
Film | November 26, 2007 | Comments ()