We can count the number of mainstream films released in the last 10 to 20 years about Latino families (and that cast Latinos) on our hands. Finally, we get to add Nothing Like the Holidays to the list! A story of family reunification, struggle, perseverance, relationships and love, arrives just in time for us to go with our familia to the movies.
Written by producer Robert Teitel (Barbershop, Soul Food) and Rene M. Rigal, Alison Swan and Rick Najera who partnered with director by Alfredo De Villa (Washington Heights), brings to the screen the story of an AmeRícan family. There is a stunning Emmy award nominated and winning cast which includes John Leguizamo as eldest brother Mauricio, Debra Messing (Will & Grace) as Mauricio’s wife Sara, Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under) as youngest brother Jesse, Vanessa Ferlito as sister Roxanna (Grindhouse), Alfred Molina (Frida) as the patriarch Eduardo, Elizabeth Peña (Tortilla Soup) as the matriarch Anna, Luis Guzman (Traffic) as the older cousin Johnny, Jay Hernandez (Hostel) as adopted family friend Ozzy, and Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind) as Jessie’s ex Marissa.
Set in Chicago, Humbolt Park is a character in the film along with the all-star cast, as the writers and several actors have roots in Illinois. There are multiple story lines and the primary one is how the family copes with the multi-layered and complex lives they all bring home for Christmas. Mauricio and Sarah live in New York City and are very successful, Mauricio a lawyer and Sarah a stockbroker, yet struggle with when to have children; Jesse is the youngest child and has just arrived back from his tour in Iraq and struggles with being reunited with his family, friends and girlfriend, Marissa, he left behind and coping with surviving the war. Roxanna struggles with being an out-of-work actor in LA who finds her attraction to Ozzy a new distraction; Ozzy is the adopted Mexican family friend whose only brother was murdered a year ago by what seems to be a rival gang he encounters often around Humbolt Park. Parents Anna and Eduardo struggle with the reality that their relationship may be ending and how to discuss this with their family.
Not just the Christmas holiday brings the family together, there is the communal force to encourage Ozzy to not retaliate against the individuals who killed his brother; the hidden family illness that is brought to light, and how to help Jesse cope with his losses from Iraq and help him begin to live his life again.
Not surprisingly, Luis Gomez steals the show. He’s hilarious in anything he does, add to that stellar actors and he shines. Highlights include Melonie Diaz’s performance, which is fabulous, the soundtrack will make you nostalgic, and the final family dance scene could have you dancing in the aisle.
Representations of “machismo” are solely based on the positive. Yes, see I am one of those Latinas who has the good fortune of experiencing the positive aspects of machismo and not the negative, so I know they exist. Here are a few examples: the men in the film are responsible and hold one another accountable for their actions, or inactions; protection of the family is not limited just to the women, humor is a survival and coping strategy, not one to demean and harm. Women are individuals and treated as such, they are not seen as property.
The reality of the needs and challenges encountered by veterans returning from war is a side story that we rarely hear that has a young brown face attached to it. The film doesn’t make the case for increased mental health for our veterans, but it does demonstrate what some veterans may need: to feel like they have a purpose now that they are home. It’s food for thought if you find yourself in this situation with your family members.
The complexity of the family, not just how family is important, but how family can take so many shapes and forms, is at the heart of this film. I can only imagine how fabulous it will be to take over movie theatres across the country, have communal eruptions of laughter and hear shouts of “wepa!” along with flag waving.
Nothing Like the Holidays is in theaters on December 12, 2008.