The opening credits of The Perfect Holiday portray cartoon versions of Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard battling it out over the holidays. The point made is crystal clear: Latifah loves Christmas. Howard loves to ruin Latifah’s fun, cutting down trees, flambéing gifts, etc. The setup of the credits made me think I was in store for a combination of War of the Roses and last year’s Deck the Halls. Instead, that really has nothing to do with this movie.
Instead, The Perfect Holiday is a love story. No, it’s not about a reignited love between Howard and Latifah. Instead it’s about Nancy (Gabrielle Union), a divorcee mother of three who is looking for love again. Nancy’s daughter overhears her mom telling friends her wish: a man with no expectations coming up and telling her how attractive she is. The little girl tells Santa about her mom’s wish, and voila! Wish granted. No, the mall Santa isn’t magical. Instead this Santa happens to be an equally-attractive young man named Benjamin (Morris Chestnut), who sees Nancy out after his Santa shift and decides to make her wish come true.
Benjamin’s selfless act leads him into a relationship with Nancy, although he lies a little bit about his life. Instead of admitting to playing Santa and being a struggling songwriter, he says he’s in office sales, figuring the boring nature of his lie will prove whether Nancy likes him for who he really is. It also puts Benjamin in the perfect situation to find out more information as Nancy’s daughter continues to report to Santa about the developing relationship.
So what does Nancy and Benjamin have to do with Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard’s animated introduction? Very little. Latifah and Howard play spirits of some sort (their exact nature is never identified, although there’s the hint that she might be Santa’s wife) who pop up from time to time like a Greek Chorus. For the most part, they are pointless, with Terrence Howard’s petty acts of holiday cruelty making him look like a spoiled six-year-old. Latifah spends her few moments on screen pontificating needlessly to the audience about the romance or the holidays, with the exception of one moment of direct interference that feels like the writers couldn’t figure out how to fix their own story, so they just solved their plot with Deus Ex Latifah. With the exception of that plot patch, the two actors are completely irrelevant to the movie, but since that’s such a crucial
At best, The Perfect Holiday is another bland holiday romance story. Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut are cute enough as a couple, but I don’t buy Union as a mother at all. The chemistry between mother and children just doesn’t feel right. Meanwhile, Chestnut’s character is fairly foolish. What guy really takes all his guidance and advice about his relationship from children? When the kids wish that he gets involved with Nancy, he gets involved. When the oldest of the three asks Santa to make Benjamin go away, he goes away. It’s utterly stupid. And don’t get me started on the sub-plot about Benjamin the struggling songwriter and Nancy’s ex-husband, who is a big time music star (which is why he’s not a big presence in his kids’ lives). The direction of the film is so obvious from the very beginning that there’s almost no reason to watch the actors play it out.
Every year there’s an offering of holiday movies. Some are warming tales destined to become classics over time, or, at the very least, entertain audiences for a short while. Others are duds, destined to be forgotten shortly after their release. The Perfect Holiday falls into the latter category. Other than some entertaining performances from supporting actors like Katt Williams and Faizon Love, this is just a cute romance that suffers from a lack of believability in an attempt to make it cuter (by having the children’s opinions carry so much weight) and the interference of two bigger named actors who simply don’t belong in this picture. Add in the fact that the movie's reach extends beyond it's grasp with a few sequences that clearly didn't have a budget to deliver properly and you've got a disappointing story by the time the end credits roll. Maybe a simpler approach would have yielded a better picture, but The Perfect Holiday is far from perfect at all.