Directed By: Preston A. Whitmore II
Written By: Preston A. Whitmore II
Produced By: Will Packer, Preston A. Whitmore II
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, Columbus Short, Regina King, Sharon Leal
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 117 minutes
Review Date: December 24, 2010
I was very surprised by This Christmas, a fairly under-the-radar Christmas movie, despite being a solid sleeper hit of the holiday season just three years ago. It’s not a perfect film, and it definitely doesn’t come close to ranking on my list of all-time favorite holiday movies, but it’s consistently entertaining with a warm tone that makes some of the more melodramatic moments go down smoother than they should.
While the main plot consists of Shirley “Ma’Dere” Whitfield (Loretta Devine) welcoming her children home for Christmas, all of her kids carry their own subplots with them. Oldest son Quentin (Idris Elba — the man, the myth, the Stringer Bell) is a jazz saxophonist who owes a bookie $25,000. He gets in a fight with some of the bookie’s goons and decides it might be time to return to Los Angeles for his first Christmas home in four years. Middle son Claude (Columbus Short) is a Marine home on leave. He just fails to mention that he’s hiding his new bride (Jessica Stroup) at a local hotel. Youngest son “Baby” (Chris Brown) is a flamboyant ladies’ man who hides the fact that he possesses a tremendous singing voice.
Then there are her daughters. Oldest daughter Lisa (Regina King) is a mother of two, married to Malcolm (Laz Alonso), a sleazy yuppie who wants his wife to convince her siblings they should sell their family business to invest in a real estate deal. Middle daughter Kelli (Sharon Leal) is a commercial director who is so invested in her career that she has no time for a relationship. Youngest daughter Mel (Lauren London) is a career student who has changed her major three times in six years of college.
Add to this the fact that Quentin worships his father, who left the family years ago, and harbors a grudge against Ma’Dere’s boyfriend, Joe (Delroy Lindo), and you have enough plot to fill several movies. As with most films that feature this large of an ensemble and such a surplus of story, it’s hard to invest fully in the characters. But the genial tone and heart that writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II puts behind the story manages to make up for the skin-deep characters.
Eventually, certain stories become more interesting than others, but Whitmore has already spent so much time laying the groundwork for the less interesting stories that he feels compelled to follow them through to completion. This is unfortunate, because not only does it take time away from the genuinely engrossing drama of Quentin’s attempt to shoulder Joe out of the family and the unexpected turns that Claude’s story takes, it also drags on the forward momentum as the film lumbers through a third act that feels increasingly perfunctory.
Not surprisingly, a happy ending is in store for everyone in the Whitfield family, but after showing a willingness to go dark every now and again, it feels like Whitmore misses an opportunity to follow through on some bittersweet moments that would have given the conclusion some heft.
This Christmas isn’t required holiday viewing, but it is worth watching if you discover it on TV after all the presents have been unwrapped. It’s a surprisingly involving film that overstays its welcome by fifteen minutes. But until the ending that just won’t stop, it’s like a pleasant visit with family you actually want to spend time with.
Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.