Making the Grades
More often than not, "the most wonderful time of the year" seems to bring out the worst in fictional film families. Like so many other dysfunctional relative movies, Nothing Like the Holidays pits siblings against one another and focuses on marital strife.
The Rodriguez clan is gathering at their parents' house in west Chicago. Though still tethered to their cell phones, Mauricio (John Leguizamo) and his wife Sarah (Debra Messing) have pried themselves away from their high-powered business adventures long enough to celebrate the season in the old neighborhood. But behind thin bedroom walls, they argue about having a baby or pursuing career options. Roxanne (Vanessa Ferlito), the aspiring actress, is home from Hollywood and worrying about the results of her latest audition. Lastly, Jesse (Freddy Rodríguez) has just returned from a three-year tour of duty in Iraq to find his former girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) in the arms of another man (Ramses Jimenez).
While the reunion ought to be a happy one, each of them arrives at the door of the humble abode with more baggage than luggage. Before long, the friendly banter begins to grow nasty and the competitive jabs start flowing as freely as the alcohol. However their mother Anna (Elizabeth Peña) silences them all when she announces her plans to divorce their father, Edy (Alfred Molina) while the group is gathered for a traditional Puerto Rican dinner. Quicker than Scrooge can shout "Bah, humbug", the last shreds of holiday spirit are snuffed out like a waxy Christmas candle.
Although this drama is stuffed with more dilemmas and unfulfilled expectations than a Christmas goose, the filmmakers give these un-merry characters a chance to marinate while developing the story line. Putting aside their personal issues and disappointments, the siblings stop their bickering long enough to face a harsh reminder about the brevity of life. Still this holiday story is packaged with plenty of profanities, frank sexual discussions, some derogatory comments and frequent alcohol and cigarette use. Gang rivalry drives one of Edy's employees (Jay Hernandez) to pull a gun on the man who murdered his brother. Later Jesse is drawn into a fistfight with another patron in a bar.
Yet for adults dreading a holiday reunion with family members who have a different perspective on life, this embattled reunion is a reminder that the season is about more than pretty lights, wrapped packages and baubles. Suffering from misunderstanding and rivalry, these characters offer one another the gift of forgiveness, or at least a generous helping of tolerance.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Nothing Like The Holidays.
Why is Edy anxious to turn the family business over to Jesse? What happens when a parent and child’s expectations are different from one another? How can those differences be resolved?
What cultural customs are portrayed in this film? How can family traditions bring a family together?
Despite some marital strife, how does Maurico feel about the institution of marriage?