This Christmas

Christmas is a time for family to come together. What we forget is that Christmas doesn’t magically make all of the family’s problems go away. We are all still the flawed human beings that we are the rest of the year, just gathered together to celebrate the holidays. This Christmas, the Whitfield family comes together in a funny, yet thoughtful reminder that no family is perfect, but for all of our flaws, we are still family.

The problems of the Whitfield family are as varied as any other. Eldest son Quentin is a traveling jazz musician who owes money to some big goons. Eldest daughter Lisa is married to an overly demanding, self-important businessman and feels trapped in her marriage because she never went to college, something she still harbors resentment for towards younger sibling Kelli. The youngest of the family, “Baby” wants to pursue a singing career, but feels trapped due to how his mother, Ma’Dere, views Quentin’s life, and the family’s perception of their father, who has “moved on” (basically leaving the family behind to pursue his own music career). No member of the Whitfield clan leads a perfect life, making the family very, very real and easily relatable.

Just giving the characters issues could make for a very disinteresting movie if it wasn’t for some incredible performances from some great actors, many of whom are cast against type. Delroy Lindo, usually the tough guy, plays the closest thing the family has to a patriarch as Joe, who has been Ma’Dere’s boyfriend for quite a while, although the two have never married. Lindo’s performance gives him the opportunity for quite a bit of range, from the soft appreciation of the kids individual personalities and abilities to one moment as his usual tough self. Loretta Devine leaves behind her typical sarcasm and bitterness to play Ma’Dere, the anchor and soul of the family. Idris Elba showed his talent earlier this year in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls but his gambling, deceiving character here is quite different. Regina King, Sharon Leal, and Lauren London also put in incredible performances as the Whitfield girls.

For a family movie, This Christmas is incredibly mature with some of its concepts and actions. The movie is rated PG-13 and earns it. Even though the language is rather light, this is not a movie from the kiddies, as several characters sexual relationships are discussed, with one of the girls even giving her vibrator an appreciative look as she unpacks. The story even includes some violence, both within Quentin’s story and, surprisingly, one of the married couple’s. While the latter isn’t as disturbing as it sounds in a film review, it’s still probably not a flick for the whole family.

Also somewhat dissappointing is the movie's poor use of lip sync. Chris Brown, who plays “Baby,” performs two musical numbers over the course of the movie. I had to stick around for the end credits to actually believe Brown was the singer on the songs though, because the performance on screen looks like a really bad lip synch due to the editing. It’s a shame because Brown’s performances are really good, especially of the title song, “This Christmas.”

Bad sync and mature ideas aside, This Christmas is a very enjoyable movie. It’s good to have the Whitfield family so strongly, realistically, and enjoyably portrayed that, for the duration of the movie you'll feel at home with these assorted characters. It’s also not a family that makes you leave the theater thinking less of your own flawed family members. If anything, the movie shows us how to appreciate the good, accept the bad, and reminds us that there is no such thing as perfection.

Josh Tyler