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REVIEW – This Christmas

This ChristmasDirected by: Preston A. Whitmore II
Produced by: Preston A. Whitmore II, Will Packer
Written by: Preston A. Whitmore II
Edited by: Paul Seydor
Cinematography by: Alexander Gruszynski
Music by: Marcus Miller
Starring: Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Regina King, Sharon Leal, Columbus Short, Lauren London, Chris Brown, Laz Alonso, Ricky Harris, Keith Robinson, Jessica Stroup, Lupe Ontiveros, David Banner, Ronnie Warner, Mekhi Phifer
Year: 2007

 

Holiday drama. For many, if not most families, it’s intrinsic to the time of year. Usually, or at least hopefully, families usually get through it all, however, come together, and celebrate in unison, as it should be, and forget all the troubles, at least for now. Of course, such an idyllic situation would not necessarily make for good storytelling, and so we have a whole swath of Christmas films centered around seasonal drama, regardless of whether or not the films themselves categorically fall into that genre, and that is how we get films like Four Christmases, The Family Stone, Christmas Vacation, Happy Christmas, The Santa Clause, A Madea Christmas, Krampus… And those are just the Christmas movies I’ve reviewed that are centered on the drama of family during the Christmas season. This year also sees the release of Almost Christmas, a film centered on yet another family coming together and enduring their wacky antics while learning to accept each other’s faults and “act like a family.” Well, I’m not paying money for that, namely because the movie got mediocre reviews, and I have things to afford. I will, however, watch producer Will Packer’s previous Christmas family dramedy This Christmas.

This Christmas - Chris Brown, Loretta Devine, Columbus Short

Director, producer, and writer Preston A. Whitmore II based the film on his own experiences at family holiday gatherings, even providing the family with a similar last name – Whitfield – and basing the three sons on himself at different points in his life. The matriarch of the Whitfield family is Shirley, known to her children as “Ma’Dere.” She’s a sweet-natured, Christmas-loving woman who would like for nothing more than to have a happy family holiday with everyone gathered together at home. Unfortunately, her recent divorce from their father and recent relationship with Joe, a neighbor, has lately put everyone off. Of course, this being an ensemble film, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Joe has himself had varying success charming Shirley’s children into accepting him as one of the family, and the younger Whitfields themselves are dealing with their own issues when they’re not griping and gossiping amongst themselves. Controlling spouses, potential spouses, ambiguous backstories, uncertain futures, money issues, control over the family business, hidden talents, and even hired goons seeking payment for gambling debts – there’s plenty of plot to go around this holiday season. One might say… too much.

This Christmas - Keith Robinson, Mekhi Phifer, Columbus Short, Sharon Leal, Lauren London

This Christmas is not a terrible movie. Its greatest asset is its cast, which made this watchable and at times even enjoyable. With the exception of Chris Brown – who I’m honestly not picking on for his more recent controversies but simply because he’s a genuinely ineffectual actor and who feels simply thrown in to lend his singing voice and a youth factor for the teenage girls in the audience – the cast is otherwise entirely likable and performing their best with the material given to them, which helps to overlook the film’s faults.

Unfortunately, as with most movies of this sort, it attempts to give equal time to all of its plots, and thus it doesn’t have any sense of focus. And since characters are all in one family and not, say, spread out as in Love Actually, the cast also feels overcrowded, as at any given time, a number of them share the same scene and yet may be dealing with their own issues at once. This results in story threads that don’t really flow organically, either, with strange tonal shifts potentially around each corner. [Mild SPOILERS until the end of the paragraph!] One minute, someone’s suspecting their spouse of certain secrets and the two comic relief goons are finding themselves enjoying the festivities, but then we’re suddenly expected to take them as a serious threat, and the suspect spouse is being humorously punished… but let’s not forget that comes after a melodramatic scene wherein the suspecting spouse destroys a very expensive car in an elaborate attempt at visual symbolism.

This Christmas - Sharon Leal, Regina King

There’s really no reason this movie couldn’t have been better than it is. Some trimming of unnecessary storylines (I’m looking at you again, Chris Brown), a rewrite for streamlining, and better flow, and this could’ve been not just a holiday classic people pull out each Christmastime, but a genuinely good movie on its own, too. Perhaps focus solely on the core family and not their spouses? Perhaps something more overtly personal and based in an earlier time in Whitmore’s life so that the sons can more directly reflect a dialogue between the director’s three avatars? Oh, what could’ve been… As is, This Christmas is merely inoffensive and likably tolerable, and I can at least see why some people actually might put this in their Christmas rotation. Its cast is made up of talented and likable people being talented and likable, and even though it’s random, nonsensical, and unnecessary, even Chris Brown’s musical numbers are at least pleasant to listen to. It’s harmless entertainment, and because it’s almost 10 years old, you’re not paying theatre admission, either, so at least you won’t feel ripped off if you end up not caring for it.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5

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