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Movie Review

It's Christmas. That magical time of year when far-flung siblings descend upon their parents and spend several days fighting with one other amid turkey and side dishes.

That's certainly the case in the Rodriguez household in Chicago. George Burns might as well have been observing this Puerto Rican clan when he quipped, "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city."

Still, the Rodriguezes are caring—for the most part. They just don't always know how to show it.

Jesse has just returned from a lengthy combat tour in Iraq, and he flounders to find purpose on U.S. soil. Brother Mauricio is a well-heeled attorney married to a high-strung Jewish investment banker named Sarah (who, as the only Caucasian in the family, gets tagged with the title "sorta Rican"), and their marriage is in the throes of pointed baby-vs.-career clashes. Sister Roxanna is a struggling Hollywood actress with little to show for her efforts.

Meanwhile, family friend Ozzy is poised to avenge his brother's murder by killing the gang member who committed the deed. And then, the siblings' mother, Anna, drops a dinnertime grenade: She's divorcing their father, Edy, after 36 years of marriage because she suspects he's been unfaithful to her again. Ultimately, however, it's Edy's secret health crisis that trumps everyone else's messes.

Hardly fodder for carols and coquito by the fire.

Yet despite their incessant seasonal bickering, deep down the Rodriguezes know they need one another. And so they work to ensure that this is not their last Christmas together.

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Positive Elements

A prevailing theme is that secrets damage relationships. Several characters harbor important information about themselves or other members of the family, and genuine conflict resolution can't happen until all of those secrets are disclosed.

Mauricio is disgusted by his parents' defeatist attitude toward their marriage. If his conflict-filled union to Sarah has taught him anything, it's that commitment is the key to marital success. He tells his parents that they need to "stick it through" and not throw away their decades together.

Even though Edy is willing to concede his marriage because he believes it will make Anna happy, in his private moments we see him staring longingly at pictures of his wife. He's made some big mistakes. But he still cares for Anna. He tells her that she's the only woman he's ever truly loved, and he hopes his rekindled affection might lead to reconciliation. More than anything, Edy longs for his family to have an enjoyable Christmas.

Camaraderie, loyalty and love ultimately cement the Rodriguez family as members seek to support and understand each other. That's demonstrated in the lavish homecoming party thrown for Jesse when he returns from the war. It's also evident in Edy's desire to pass on management of the family bodega to Jesse (though he's unsure he wants it). After several unsuccessful years in Hollywood, Roxanna sees the benefit of moving closer to her supportive family. And even though Anna periodically harangues Sarah about her career aspirations, she warms up to her daughter-in-law when she sees Sarah's attempts to embrace Puerto Rican culture.

Later, Jesse also deals with the consequences of a tragic battle in Iraq and tries to do right by the family of a soldier in his unit who was killed. He also apologizes to a former girlfriend for breaking off the relationship unexpectedly. She forgives him, but she draws boundaries and does not take him back. Elsewhere, Ozzy concludes that carrying out a plan for vengeance isn't worth jeopardizing his growing relationship with Roxanna.

Spiritual Content

The Rodriguezes are hardly devout Catholics. But they do observe Catholic traditions (such as having a Nativity scene) and pay lip service to elements of the faith throughout the film. Anna crosses herself and says "Dios mio" ("my god") when she senses a crisis coming. She says her husband "broke his vows and sinned against God" when Father Torres, the family's priest, comes to talk to them about their marital problems. In that conversation, Mauricio reminds his mother that Jesus counseled forgiveness for those who've sinned against us. When Anna learns of Edy's illness, she says "God is punishing" her for contemplating divorce.

A family friend says she prayed for Jesse every day he was in Iraq. The Rodriguezes join other Puerto Rican families in singing Christ-centered Christmas carols throughout the neighborhood. Though Edy hasn't been to Christmas Mass in 20 years, he goes with Anna (mostly to ensure she doesn't flirt with another man). A reference is made to Jesus' cross and the tree it came from. When Sarah and Mauricio discuss which religion their future children will grow up in, "Puerto Rican Judaism" is jokingly mentioned as a possible option.

When Ozzy confronts the gangbanger who killed his brother, the man kisses his cross and says that he's ready to die.

Sexual Content

It's implied that Jesse's ex-girlfriend is living with her current beau. Roxanna and Jesse each reminisce fondly about when they (separately) lost their virginity on a couch in the attic. Ozzy teases Roxanna about shouting his nickname while she was climaxing. Mauricio and Sarah argue after having unprotected sex when Sarah was "completely loaded," and family members joke about the couple's sex life. Sarah also tries to calculate her probability of getting pregnant based on when her last period was. Sarah references phone sex and oral sex. A guy makes a crude (and violent) joke involving a pistol and a soldier's male anatomy.

Roxanna and a friend dance to the sensual song "I Wanna Sex You Up." An uncle sees them and suggestively says, "Are you two kissing? I wanna watch." In another allusion to homosexuality, someone jokes about a family member having a "roommate" at age 60.

It's common knowledge that Edy cheated on Anna earlier in their marriage. A radio DJ tells a phallic joke. Roxanna and Sarah laugh at a sexual pun uttered in front of a 3-year-old boy, since he "doesn't get innuendo." Women make appreciative comments about a man's body.

While dancing with her husband, Sarah grabs Mauricio's backside suggestively. Several couples kiss. Two men are seen lounging in their underwear, and Sarah wears a camisole in bed. Several women wear low-cut dresses or shirts.

Violent Content

Ozzy aims a handgun at a rival. Jesse gets into a brief fistfight with his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend. He ends up on the receiving end of a punch and smashes into a table before retaliating in kind. Edy's medical condition momentarily incapacitates him while he's driving, and his car veers into oncoming traffic. Later, he hits his head on the steering wheel when crashing into the back of a parked car.

Crude or Profane Language

The s-word is trotted out at least a dozen times. Characters say "a--" or "a--hole" about 20 times. Jesus' name is abused three or four times, as is God's name in combination with "d--n." Other foul language includes "h---," "b--ch" and "b--tard."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Roxanna smokes in the house (Mauricio complains), and we also see someone smoking a cigar. Marijuana is alluded to twice. A bar scene shows several family members drinking. The joke is that Happy Hour starts at 11 a.m., and several folks are hung over after different rounds of drinking. The family's alcoholic drinks at home include wine, rum and beer. In a moment of deep sadness, Edy is pictured sipping a glass of wine by himself.

Other Negative Elements

Sarah has for years put career advancement above starting a family—to the point of hiding a significant career opportunity from her husband for fear he'd tell her no. Anna doesn't help matters much as she puts pressure on Sarah to conceive.

Edy doesn't seem especially remorseful about his past affair, and one of his children talks about how Edy once offered $100 to keep it quiet. Anna is dismissive of Edy's attempts to reconcile, saying that after their children leave, they'll have nothing more in common. Edy is unwilling to discuss family problems until after Christmas, even when others see the importance of working them out immediately.

A black bodega employee mentions "cutting the dark meat first" in reference to soldiers of color getting hurt in combat. Indeed, racial jokes fly fairly frequently.

Conclusion

As I watched Nothing Like the Holidays move predictably through its paces, I had a sense that I'd seen it before. That's probably because it follows a time-honored Christmas-movie template: Family members return home. Family members bicker. Secrets threaten unity. Reconciliation eventually prevails.

If there's little original here, that doesn't mean there aren't things worth praising: From start to finish, the film extols the virtue of family. While almost every character has some ugly or petty moments, and a couple of conflicts revolve around truly damaging issues (such as deception and infidelity), ultimately, none of the Rodriguez family's foibles are sufficient to torpedo the whole enterprise. Why? Because cooler heads eventually recall just how important the ties that bind are. Thus, this story illustrates—poignantly at times—that a family's collective commitment to every member has the power to transcend any one person's mistakes.

In these themes, Nothing Like the Holidays reads like some of Tyler Perry's recent films, with Puerto Rico-meets-Chicago replacing Atlanta-meets-church. And just like Perry's flicks, the problems with Holidays significantly undermine decidedly positive moments. In this case, a considerable amount of profanity, as well as laughing nods to drunkenness and sexual innuendo—including references to oral sex, phone sex and homosexuality—mean this film about a family Christmas won't bring Christmas cheer to ... families.

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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