No one wants to watch another predictable Christmas film about a warring family converging for the holidays, but if it’s your tradition to gather round the fireplace for one of these, This Christmas is a good bet. The movie hews closely to the genre playbook yet still manages to separate itself from the depressing, cream-colored monotony of holiday reunion films thanks to its strong cast and a lighter touch that doesn’t take away from its message of family unity.
Loretta Devine leads as the Whitfield matriarch, affectionately known as Ma’Dere. Her partner through the years has been Joe (Delroy Lindo), the strong, silent type who has earned the respect of the Whitfield children by simply being there. Besides Baby (Chris Brown), an aspiring singer and photographer who already lives at home, the others happily return to the nest. Oldest sister and homemaker Lisa (Regina King) arrives with her strong-willed husband Malcolm (Laz Alonso), followed by equally strong-willed thus single Kelli (Sharon Leal), flighty college student Mel (Lauren London) and her beau du jour Devan (Keith Robinson), and Marine Claude (Columbus Short). The only one missing is roving musician Quentin (Idris Elba), who hasn’t been back in four years.
Needless to say, things don’t go as swimmingly as Ma’Dere would like, and immediately old resentments boil over, throwing the house into greater chaos as Christmas Day approaches. Over the course of about 60 hours, scandalous affairs and other jaw-dropping liaisons are revealed, a pitched catfight in the rain results in an Escalade rolling down the river, and one of the Whitfields spends the night in jail while another finds himself breaking bread with his debt collectors. Whatever you want, it seems, this family’s got– except, thankfully, a mawkish terminal illness cliché.
That the film is overstuffed is a fair and mostly true accusation, but it never feels like an overwrought melodrama in the vein of say The Family Stone. Sure, it’s shouty at times and contrived at most, but it’s never whiny or self-righteous. Not every argument is made to be a Big Deal. You get the feeling that this is a more intense holiday reunion for the Whitfields than usual, but life will more or less move on. They’ve dealt with problems in the past and will continue to handle them in the future; they are grown ass adults after all. There’s an undercurrent of normalcy in this movie that is missing in similar ones, and that’s in part what makes This Christmas easy and fun to watch.
The cast also have their small moments to shine. King and Leal give strong performances as warring sisters while London had me laughing out loud when her character discovers what Claude’s been hiding. I was also pleasantly surprised by Elba’s presence in this film, and he continues to show that he can do no wrong, playing a tough with a big chip on his shoulder while trying to hide his vulnerabilities. Brown contributes a few memorable holiday tracks, including a version of the title song (my favorite next to Wham’s great classic). Other soundtrack collaborators – Jordin Sparks, Anthony Hamilton, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin – ensure that the album will continue satisfying your holiday feels for a long time.
“This Christmas” by Chris Brown:
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Jordin Sparks:
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Luther Vandross:
“Sleigh Ride” by TLC:
Prod: Preston A. Whitmore II, Will Packer
Dir: Preston A. Whitmore II
Writer: Preston A. Whitmore II
Cast: Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Sharon Leal, Regina King, Keith Robinson, Laz Alonso, Columbus Short, Lauren London, Mekhi Pfifer, Ricky Harris, Jessica Stroup, Lupe Ontiveros, David Banner, Ronnie Warner
Time: 119 min
Country: United States