This Christmas

on November 21, 2007 by Amy Nicholson

l'll say it: Black family melodramas are today’s Shakespearean comedies. It’s not just that they twist up a dozen narrative knots and secrets -- here, we have a plot to fleece the estate, an affair, six routes of sibling rivalry, a debtor on the run, a hidden live-in lover, a missing husband, and a secret white wife (to name only half the Whitfield family’s snarls). But with charm and sass, the two-hour whirlwind first unleashes, then vanquishes, society’s ills to cathartic applause and hoots.

Writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II’s dogged crowd-pleaser about mama Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) and deacon boyfriend Joe Black (Delroy Lindo) opening her Los Angeles house to her six quirky kids hits all the trigger points. Homemaker daughter Lisa (Regina King) is under the thumb of her selfish husband Malcolm (Laz Alonzo), whose suggestion that she cut up his meat induced hisses; Kelli (Sharon Leal) is too caught up in work for more than a one-night stand. Estranged musician son Quentin (Idris Elba) owes $25,000 to thugs Mo and Dude (David Banner and Ronnie Warner), while youngest boy Baby (Chris Brown) wants to sing but knows mom won’t approve. And while slacker student Mel (Lauren London) has brought home a boyfriend (Keith Robinson) whose name no one can remember, Marine Claude (Columbus Short) can’t even tell mom his new woman Sandi (Jessica Stroup) is blue-eyed.

Four fistfights and several musical numbers later, harmony is restored, and while the melodrama-lite’s hardly surprising, it’s a damned decent time. And once the bad men have been punished, the sons and daughters alike pressed to follow their dreams, and the family primacy reasserted with its strong mama at the head of the table dishing up the macaroni and cheese, it’s time for the credits and the movie’s second soul train line where the actors, now free to do their thing as themselves, spend five minutes shaking it through the living room, doing the Kid N’ Play and reminding the grinding ingénues, “This is a PG-13 picture!”

Distributor: Screen Gems
Cast: Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Chris Brown, Regina King and Idris Elba
Director/Screenwriter: Preston A. Whitmore II
Producers: Preston A. Whitmore II and William Packer
Genre: Dramatic comedy
Rating: PG-13 for comic sexual content and some violence.
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: November 21

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