The Rating: PG-13
Marquee Cast Members: Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, Chris Brown, Keith Robinson, Columbus Short, Sharon Leal, Mekhi Phifer, Regina King.
"This Christmas," written and directed by Detroit native Preston A. Whitmore II, is a African-American version of the dysfunctional family holiday reunion movie. One could describe it as a more soulful "Home for the Holidays" or a more grand “Soul Food.” Except Whitmore doesn't serve up just a few problems here; he piles up a platter full.
Matriarch Shirley "Ma' Dere" Whitfield, three sons and three daughters descend on the family home for the first time in four years during the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately, the middle-class suburban Los Angeles family gathered for a holiday reunion is unwrapping not only presents but more secrets:
- Matriarch M'Dere (Loretta Devine) is concealing a divorce from her jazz musician husband who left the family over a decade ago as well as the live-in status of long-time boyfriend and church deacon Joe (Delroy Lindo).
- Marine Claude Whitfield (Columbus Short) has gone AWOL from duty to secretly marry a white woman (Jessica Stroup) who, unbeknownst even to him, is pregnant.
- Oldest daughter Lisa (Regina King) is married to two-timing husband Malcolm (Laz Alonso), who is pressuring her to persuade her siblings to sell the family business and home.
- Oldest son Quentin (Idris Elba), a long-absent traveling musician who detests Joe, is secretly deeply in debt to a pair of bookies.
- Youngest sibling Baby (Chris Brown) is hiding from M'Dere the distressing fact that he has chosen to follow Quentin and their father into a musical career.
There are yet two more sisters with romantic issues, workaholic businesswoman Kelli (Sharon Leal) and 7-year professional college student Melanie (Lauren London).
As a holiday film, this project is not breaking new ground. If follows the same formula as those before it. That in itself is not the problem. Instead the film’s biggest problem is that there are too many characters to fully engage any of them on an emotional level. The result is a rocky plot with loose ends. At the onset, the movie stumbles along so clumsely that you find yourself wondering if the key players are even all related – we still never figured out who M’Dere’s Latino confidant Rosie was. By the end of the movie, that quandary never ends: Claude never learns he’s a father to be, the Whitfield family never learns of M’Dere’s divorce and following the hilarious baby oil scene of Lisa, her husband Malcolm suddenly leaves with no trace or dialogue. Instead we get a 5 minute soul train line….at which time we realize that the movie is indeed over. In the end, we get the impression that Whitmore had far too many plots to juggle.
Still, the attractive cast -- which includes Delroy Lindo, Loretta Devine, Regina King, Lauren London and singer Chris Brown -- sells the story well enough. And Whitmore steers all the messiness toward a predictable conclusion that includes church and singing and lots of hugging, so it's not one of those thoroughly rotten-feeling holiday movies.
Holiday family reunions are often dispiriting events, and so are most movies about them. “This Christmas” isn’t among the worst—just think “Home for the Holidays”—but it’s hardly a festive gem.