Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 48
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: The Whitfield clan gets together at their mother’s house in Los Angeles for Christmas for the first time after many years.

This Christmas: Skeletons Aplenty in Dysfunctional Family Dramatic Comedy

Kam Williams

For the first time in years, the scattered Whitfield children return to their childhood home in L.A. for a family reunion hosted by their mother, Ma’ Dere (Loretta Devine) and her boyfriend, Joe Black (Delroy Lindo). Each of the children arrive with their luggage and their individual emotional baggage. Consequently, there are some pressing issues which need to be addressed before they can all share in the anticipated Christmas celebration.

Daughter Kelli (Sharon Leal) has a successful professional career in New York City, but no boyfriend, because she’s picky and refuses to compromise her standards. Her sister Melanie (Lauren London) is a free-spirited undergraduate in her seventh year at Spelman College where she keeps changing her major to match that of her current boyfriend. She’s brought along her latest beau, Devean (Keith Robinson), a pre-law major at neighboring Morehouse College.

Arriving from San Francisco is eldest sister Lisa (Regina King), who is suffering through a bad marriage to her unfaithful and abusive husband Malcolm (Laz Alonso) for the sake of their children. Malcolm is pressuring Lisa to ask her mother for money that he wants to invest in a business deal with his mistress (Amy Hunter).

As for the Whitfield males, there’s Claude (Columbus Short), on leave from the Marines, who’s hiding his white girlfriend Sandi (Jessica Stroup) in a nearby hotel. He’s hesitant to introduce her to his family, not only on account of her skin color, but because of some other secrets that will come out in the course of the film.

Quentin, Jr. (Idris Elba) is a struggling jazz saxophonist who has disappointed his mother by following in his father’s footsteps because the senior Quentin was unreliable and a terrible provider. In addition, Quentin Jr. doesn’t realize that he has been trailed from Chicago by a couple of bookies (David Banner and Ronnie Warner) to whom he owes $25,000.

Finally, there’s Michael (Chris Brown), the baby, who’s still living at home. He has been blessed with a beautiful singing voice, but he hasn’t pursued his dream of singing professionally because of his mother’s aversion to show business.

Writer/director Preston A. Whitmore, Jr. does a decent job of interweaving the strands of these six leads’ stories in an entertaining fashion, even if the characters’ actions tend to be more cartoonish than credible. Unfortunately, the slapstick and sexuality are emphasized more heavily than one would expect in a holiday film, which mars what was presumably intended to be a wholesome family movie.

Also, the prominent ad placements for Cadillac, BMW, Rolling Rock Beer, Kool Aid, Harley Davidson, Louis Vuitton, etc. detract from the film. Not only do we see the products, but we often have to suffer through distracting dialogues extolling their virtues, and in one case, even stating the price of a car. For some reason, urban comedies and kiddie cartoons are the two genres of movies which tend to be overloaded with commercials.

Otherwise, there’s much to recommend about This Christmas, which has powerful performances by nearly every member of the principal cast. They are quite convincing in conveying the feeling of a real family, and in generating the requisite chemistry or antipathy called for by their characters’ circumstances.

In the end, all the skeletons are revealed and dealt with satisfactorily, thus enabling the Whitfields to gather around the dinner table for a closing moment on Christmas day. No, actually that’s the penultimate tableau, because the film ends with the entire cast taking turns dancing down a Soul Train style line.

Very Good (3 stars). Rated PG-13 for sexual content and violence. Running time: 117 minutes. Studio: Screen Gems.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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