Nothing Like the Holidays is actually everything like the holidays—or at least like many holiday films you’ve seen before. All the ingredients are in place: son (Rodriguez) newly returned from Iraq. Daughter (Ferlito) home from L.A., where she’s struggling to make it as an actor. Other son (Leguizamo) and wife (Messing) in town from New York, where they’re living out a model existence as high-pressure yuppies. Serially hassled, food-obsessed mother (Peña). Cross-cultural humor involving said yuppie son and his Jewish wife, who’s not ready to produce grandchildren for said food-and grandchild-obsessed mother. Patriarch (Molina) practicing a sensible policy of nonengagement.
The movie’s trajectory follows a predictable pattern of cheery reunions, sudden revelations, weepy breakdowns and warm reconciliations, albeit with some odd tonal detours (it flirts briefly with Bergman territory, even violence) and, to its credit, a keen sense of place (Chicago’s Humboldt Park). Much of the action is set in and around the family bodega and in bars, as the kids reconnect with old pals and face old wounds. Despite all the artificial drama, there are brief moments when the film resembles a genuine homecoming.