Not enough seats at ‘This Christmas’

Big production and a bigger family leaves little desire for seconds in this holiday happy meal.

Megan Kadrmas

As the traditional holiday song goes, “This Christmas will be a very special Christmas for me.”

Apparently “special” has a lot of meanings in the new light-hearted drama, “This Christmas,” where a large, black family confronts a cheating husband, an impending divorce, a secret marriage, an even more secret pregnancy, a couple of bookies seeking to settle a $25,000 debt and a mother who won’t accept her son’s musical talents.

“This Christmas”

DIRECTED BY: Preston A. Whitmore II
STARRING: Chris Brown, Columbus Short, Loretta Devine
RATED: PG-13
PLAYING AT: Area theaters

In fact, “This Christmas” has so many “special” subjects swirling around like snowflakes that it gets hard to figure out, as the issues pile up, what the point of the movie really is.

The film hurls this heavy load at the audience in a nonchalant manner and, as if in a blizzard, it’s hard to see the message or the weight that any of the Whitfields’ problems carry. To make matters worse, the film’s lame attempts at lightening up the heaviest moments cheapen it and plunge its quality to the lowly depths of a tween dramedy.

“This Christmas” documents the reunion of a family, the Whitfields, at their clichéd large-and-in-charge mother’s California mansion. Each of the six Whitfield children is grown and leading their own separate, unimaginably successful lives. And “This Christmas” is the first time they have all gathered around Ma Dear’s (Loretta Devine) table in four years.

The youngest Whitfield, affectionately dubbed “Baby,” is played by popular teen R&B crooner Chris Brown. Like the actor who plays him, Baby has the gift of song but is afraid to tell Ma Dear because she doesn’t take kindly to musical talent, afraid her youngest will leave her to follow his dreams. Ever since her husband, the never visible but frequently mentioned “Senior,” left the family years ago to pursue a music career, Ma Dear is positive that a musical curse lies over the men she loves.

Hilariously, “This Christmas” tries to pretend that Baby has never sung publicly before. In his “coming out” scene at a crowded dance club, he stutters and mumbles through an intro explaining his stage fright. Moments later, he is belting it out like the pop divo he is in real life, completely ruining what could be an interesting character-study scene.

This is how most of “This Christmas” is constructed, though. As soon as the characters, and their problems, start to become real and believable, the movie stumbles and the character connection is lost.

When Whitfield sisters Sistah (Regina King) and Kelli (Sharon Leal) start arguing, a good scene quickly goes bad. In the pouring rain, they squabble over Sistah’s cheating husband and his scheme to sell the family Laundomat. After a few deliciously bitchy lines, words escalate into a full-blown fight. All of the scratching and hair-pulling makes the sister-on-sister action come off as corny and fake. To make matters worse, as Sistah speeds away in her SUV after the fight breaks up, Kelli whines that the catfight ruined her hair.

There are also some heartwarming moments in “This Christmas,” which are essential for any family-style movie coming out between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The dinner table scenes, where witty comments are passed along with the bountiful bowls of food, are funny and endearing. Those who grew up with multiple siblings will attest to the honesty of the humorous approach “This Christmas” takes when dealing with the family dynamics.

In another scene, military man Clyde (Columbus Short) tries to sneak out of the house, but is busted by not one, but three of his siblings, who all invite themselves along on the excursion. Anxious and annoyed, Clyde finally gives in and leaves, half the family in tow.

“This Christmas” fails to pull the audience fully into its world of familial issues and sibling struggles, but maybe that isn’t its intent. After all, who wants to be burdened with some other family’s problems when you’ve got your own Whitfield-style reunion around the corner?