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By Stina Chyn | November 25, 2007

Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II, “This Christmas” invites the viewer to spend the holidays with the Whitfield family. The ensemble in this film consists of the following: matriarch Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine), surrogate father Joe (Delroy Lindo), Ma’Dere’s children Quentin (Idris Elba), the oldest; Claude (Columbus Short), the middle son; Michael (Chris Brown), the youngest; Lisa (Regina King), the oldest daughter; Kelli (Sharon Leal); and Mel (Lauren London), the youngest. A cousin Fred (Ricky Harris), Mel’s boyfriend Devean (Keith Robinson), and Lisa’s husband Malcolm (Laz Alonso) are also featured in various storylines.

Over the course of the film, most of the characters confess something they’ve been keeping from Ma’Dere or themselves. For instance, Quentin owes a couple of bookies a hefty amount of money; Lisa’s husband treats her like a servant; and Michael has an amazing talent that wouldn’t make mother too thrilled if he were to pursue it. The arguments that take place between a few of the characters and the dry humor in the dialogue give Whitmore’s film potential to be melodramatic like “Waiting to Exhale” or “The Upside of Anger.” Such thematic gravity is avoided and replaced with something that is on the whole logically much lighter, given its season-specific setting.

With respect to plot and character development, “This Christmas” doesn’t ask the audience to invest psychologically more than what is necessary to process the images on the screen. Moreover, it’s an ensemble cast Christmas movie focused on a family—the viewer already knows what to expect: estranged characters must kiss and make-up, the parental unit has something to tell the kids, and other secrets concerning other family members will be revealed (frequently at inopportune moments), all culminating into a lesson about forgiveness and the meaning of family. “This Christmas” adheres to this formula and impressively stays away from the cheese and the sap that ordinarily accompany holiday pictures.

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