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November 2007

By Wilson Morales



Director: Preston A. Whitmore II
Producer: Will Packer
Screenwriter: Preston A. Whitmore II
Executive Producers: Mekhi Phifer and Ronnie Warner
Cinematographer: Alexander Gruszynski
Composer: Marcus Miller
Cast: Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Regina King, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Mekhi Phifer, Sharon Leal, Columbus Short, Laz Alonso, Lauren London, Keith Robinson, David Banner, Ronnie Warner, Lupe Ontiveros, Jessica Stroup, Ricky Harris, Amy Hunter, Brandon T. Jackson


Every time we get a holiday film, whether it’s about Thanksgiving or Christmas, it usually involves many family members coming home and hiding their own problems for the sake of peacefulness while being together. We’ve seen it in ‘Home for the Holidays’ with Jodie Foster and ‘The Family Stone’ with Sarah Jessica Parker. Here we have a similar film, ‘This Christmas’, featuring African Americans and while formula is still the same, it’s quite amusing, romantic, and a delightful holiday treat for a family to enjoy. With Loretta Devine and Delroy Lindo leading the pack (Regina King, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Mekhi Phifer, Sharon Leal, Columbus Short, Laz Alonso, Lauren London, Keith Robinson, David Banner, Ronnie Warner, Lupe Ontiveros, Jessica Stroup, Ricky Harris, Amy Hunter, Brandon T. Jackson), there’s plenty of reasons to see this film.

It’s Christmas time in Los Angeles, and for Shirley Ma' Dere Whitfield (Loretta Devine), she hopes all her kids are home for the holidays, including absentee eldest son Quentin (Elba), whom she hasn’t seen in four years. Quentin chose to follow in his father, Senior’s footsteps and become a musician, which Ma’Dere disliked. Meanwhile, the rest of her kids start settling back home, with Kelli (Leal) coming in from New York, younger daughter Mel (London) coming in from college with her boyfriend Devean (Robinson), and military man Claude (Short) who enabled a ‘weekend pass’ to see his mama. Already in town are eldest daughter Lisa, husband Malcolm (Alonso) and their kids. Having helped raised some of her siblings; Lisa is pressured by Malcolm to get all to sell Ma’Dere’s dry cleaning business, but little does she what else is going in their marriage. Then there’s Michael ‘Baby’ Whitfield (Brown), the youngest of the family, who yearns to sing, but risks the disapproval of his mother, being that all Whitfield men leave the household to follow their dreams at a young age. While each of the siblings are happy to see each other and be a family, they all have secrets that start to come out and threaten to ruin the reunion, while Joe (Lindo), Ma’Dere’s live-in boyfriend tries to keep the peace.

It’s believe that writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II added some of his personal experience to this film and give him credit for making it appealing, and humorous, and romantic. When you have a cast this big, one hopes that no one gets lost in the shuffle and that each can have a scene that makes their mark, and Whitmore II has done that.

What works for ‘This Christmas’ is the chemistry and energy amongst the cast members as siblings. It’s doesn’t take long in the film for you to figure out what each is going through, and yet we are there to see it spelled out. As the matriarch of the film, Devine is the rock that holds this film. She’s keeps the film balanced with her straight to the point sassiness and Lindo there to compliment her. In his second film outing after his debut in ‘Stomp The Yard’, Chris Brown has shown that he’s a natural and can act and sing on the big screen. Regina King has been seen in steady roles for most of her film roles. She’s the one that usually holds it together and with this film she showed that she can play the opposite and still make it work. When folks see her breakdown scene and what she does to rise above her troubles, it will be the talk of the film. Rappers can be funny if even the right lines and that’s what David Banner provided. It’s good to see Banner step out of his persona and be an actor. We get plenty of knock down fights, Brown’s rendition of ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, and executive producer Phifer showing a romantic side we haven’t seen in a long time. While the stories are universal and filled with solid acting and storylines, not everyone got to shine on screen. Lupe Ontiveros, who played Rosie the Hispanic maid and Jessica Stroup, the lone white actress, were given thankless part and the living room dance sequence that closes the film may try one’s patience, but in the end it’s a fun film to enjoy.