This Christmas (Sony Pictures/Rainforest Films/Facilitator Films)
This Christmas, writer-director Preston Whitmore's third film as a hyphenate filmmaker finds him somewhere between the John Hughes family comedies of the '80s and Spike Lee's early sepia tone/jazz period, yet funnier than both. And just to put him in even tonier company, I haven't liked a movie with this much singing and dancing since O Brother Where Art Thou?.
Christmas is a departure in that Whitmore's movies usually involve prison themes, with the notable exception being the even more socially conscious, civil rights-era piece The Walking Dead, which updated the Buffalo Soldier theme. True to form, Claude Whitmire is thrown in the brig for going AWOL from his Marine unit, but the morality play typical of Whitmore's other scripts is absent. Emphasis is repeatedly placed on the ensemble, the family, and the setting of the expansive family home.
This Christmas is as funny as any of my favorite holiday movies. Loretta Devine is a revelation to me as the matron of a large, well-to-do African-American family in southern California. Her sincere, hilarious performance propels every subplot, in a story with many funny, realistic subplots.
Because the humour is plot-driven, as opposed to based on one-liners, it retains the warmth of comedy grounded in reality, and there is little cultural literacy required of its potential crossover audience. If you don't see This Christmas in a theater, you'll definitely see it for years to come on television. It's just that funny and endearing.
Delroy Lindo seems to play himself, and the recognizable presence of Regina King may not be enough to cross This Christmas over. These stars, along with Devine, benefit from the stage play-like setting, but this is Chris Brown's coming out party, in the classic Hollywood sense. Claims are being staked on his considerable talents, and he delivers star power in every scene.
Big names aside, there are no bad performances here. No sounding boards, no fall guys, and no foils. No character is presented as unintentionally funny. We never laugh at any character unless the cast is laughing with us, drawing us nearer still to the story. All characters arc, and every speaking role contributes organically to the family warmth and the high rpm comedy.
4 out of 5 stars and 8 on a 10 scale.