Yes, it's that time again. As soon as the weather gets cold and the trees go up indoors, some Hollywood studio will attempt to make a buck by casting some random stars, throwing them in a house together, and calling them a "dysfunctional but loving" family. The home for Christmas comedy has been around for years, but since there's never been one about a Hispanic family, we now have Nothing Like the Holidays to fill the gap. No better or worse than This Christmas or The Family Stone, it would be inoffensive if it didn't feel so gratingly familiar.
First you have the parents, Anna (Elizabeth Pena) and Edy (Alfred Molina) Rodriguez, who have a secret to keep from their kids as they all gather for the holidays. The kids, all grown, are Jesse, a mildly injured Iraq war vet (Freddy Rodriguez) mooning over an ex-girlfriend, Roxanna, an unsuccessful Hollywood actress (Vanessa Ferlito), and Mauricio, a high-powered attorney (John Leguizamo) with a white wife (Debra Messing) who can't be bothered to remove her Bluetooth for Christmas dinner. Everyone squabbles good-naturedly until they start squabbling for real, when Anna announces she's divorcing their dad and Dad, for his part, is clearly hiding something as well.
Romance blooms between Roxanna and friend of the family Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), reconciliation starts between Jesse and his adorable ex Marissa (Melonie Diaz), and Mauricio and Sarah talk about the usual yuppie couple issues, even while Sarah, despite having been married to him for several years, struggles to get with Puerto Rican culture. Yes, of course there's a scene where the white girl finally gets down on the dance floor. Throughout all of this Luis Guzman hovers in the corners like some slacker Christmas sprite, making his usual jokes and not adding much, but not exactly detracting either.
Directed by Alfredo de Villa with a competent, uninspiring hand, Nothing Like the Holidays tries for a little Puerto Rican authenticity-- the neighborhood caroling scene is a particularly nice touch-- but none of the characters really feel authentically human. People do things that are illogical if not outright stupid, and out of character, for the sake of the creaky plot and maybe a laugh. Old wounds are forgotten in moments, deep rivalries sprout up over nothing, and the characters mostly act as if the script, not any real feeling, is controlling their actions.
Of course, this won't bother you if you're looking for a distraction with a holiday twinkle, and if you've already seen Four Christmases. Nothing LIke the Holidays, true to its bland title, isn't too Puerto Rican for a wide audience, isn't too racy for a family audience, and hell, isn't even too Christian for an audience not celebrating Christmas. It's the kind of movie every member of the family can agree on, then forget as soon as the credits roll.