Not exactly what you’d call a Christmas-time blockbuster, This Christmas opened in November of 2007 to mixed reviews but a solid box office intake. Although it opened in less than two-thousand theaters, the film grossed nearly $50 million domestically which proves that despite the little press this film received (I cannot recall a single trailer for this film…or poster…or anything, really), it still had a solid level of word-of-mouth to generate that kind of money. In a season that has been desperately lacking in new holiday classics, This Christmas seemed to be just what the movie-goers wanted in a Christmas film.
This Christmas there’s no place like family. For the first time in years, all the Whitfield kids have come home to spend the holiday with Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) and her boyfriend Joe (Delroy Lindo). And each has brought plenty of baggage along with them. As the lights are hung and the tree is trimmed, secrets are revealed and ties are tested. But as their lives converge again, they join together to rediscover and celebrate the wonderful gift of family. Also starring Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Columbus Short, Laz Alonso, Jessica Stroup, Sharon Leal, Lauren London, and Regina King. Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II.
As mentioned above, I don’t recall a single trailer or poster for this anywhere last November, so I was completely unaware of its existence until this release showed up. Although I was unsure if I would truly enjoy this film or not, I settled in for what would be a two-hour family Christmas film…a run time I still feel was far too long for a film of this nature, but as we’ll soon see it was due to the myriad of storylines that were flying around in the story, so anything less than two hours would have likely been cause for some of the characters to have been removed completely. Of course that wouldn’t have worked, as the films charm stems from just how big the Whitfield family is.
Although technically a family Christmas film in title and spirit, the film is really anything but that. In essence it plays out to be more of some big soap opera that resolves itself by the end, rather than putting anyone into comas. Almost all of the family members are hiding some sort of secret: Michael ‘Baby’ Whitfield (Brown) wants to be a singer, but fears he can’t tell Ma’Dere because his Dad and older brother Quentin (Elba), who later appears home in an attempt to hide from the mob, left the family in order to pursue their own musical careers. Daughter Lisa (King) has a cheating husband, Malcolm (Alonso), that is also involved in some shady business deals. Claude (Short) is AWOL from the marines and hiding a wife (Stroup) in a nearby hotel room, while younger Kelli (Leal) neglected to tell everyone she was bringing home her boyfriend.
As you can see…there are plenty of lies and half-truths going around throughout the family and the only one who doesn’t seem to be affected is sister Mel (London), who is just flat out mean. Of course the secrets are what make the film enjoyable to watch and the resulting explosions from within the household are devastating, with punches being thrown, guns being pulled, unmarried pregnancies, destroyed cars and a scene involving baby oil and a belt (I’ll let you fill that one in on your own).
From the outset I assumed I wouldn’t enjoy this film at all and while it is definitely not a “family” film to take the children to (I mean honestly…this isn’t exactly the best example family to be putting in front of young ones eyes—the amount of secrets that are kept in this family is devastating), it is genuinely entertaining if you can get into it. The main problem with the film is its run time; however, as while it’s required to delve into each of the characters personas adequately, it’s actually not enough to properly do each character justice and as such the less interesting subplots being to drag the film to its knees at times. Again, it’s the largeness of the family that makes it so entertaining, but it’s also what hurts the movie itself as there are simply too many stories to juggle in the two hours it runs.
Overall This Christmas is a worthy title to check out for the holiday season, although it isn’t a “family” outing in the sense that Santa Clause 3 would be. I’m not going to play moral police and say you shouldn’t allow younger children to see it, but just be aware that it has about as much going on in the film as your average day time soap opera, so use that as your jumping point if you want. Still, in a season that’s often starved for new films, this one fills the role well enough that it’s worth a Rental. I hesitate to give it a full blown recommendation as, again, it runs a bit long and isn’t quite as neat and tidy enough to warrant repeat viewings.
Arriving in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with the usual array of Sony inserts, This Christmas features a nicely done animated/pop-up menu system and isn’t anything that will give you any difficulty playing with. The whole package is pretty straightforward, so there’s nothing to worry about, although it’s mildly interesting that the cover art chosen for this release is much more festive looking in nature than the original “blown up gift wrap” theatrical poster. Guess they wanted to drive the point home this was a holiday flick.
The video is an AVC encoded 1080p 2.40:1 transfer that looks pretty good for a holiday film. The warm family-time/Christmas light glow that the entire film has, however, does hamper the detail levels a bit and really just gives the movie a bit of a washed appearance. Interior scenes are especially like this, but exterior sequences sport a tad bit more detail than the rest of it. This isn’t a film that really begs to be in high-definition and as such the transfer doesn’t exactly scream “reference quality.”
The area this film utilizes the Blu-ray format, however, is in its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. With music being a big part of the film, the entire room is filled with the musical sounds. Plenty of surround effects are tossed about in the films more tense sequences, but, again, this isn’t something you’re going to show off your home theater with (“Listen to the Whitfields fight! Note the dynamic range!”). If English doesn’t work for you, the film arrives with TrueHD tracks in French and Portuguese as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish and Thai. Subtitles are included in English, English (SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Thai.
Although the extras are a bit on the light side here (and in standard definition), there is still a solid amount to check out. First we have a collection of “Deleted & Extended Scenes” (5:29), “Making This Christmas” (11:35) which is a short and standard fluff piece and a “This Christmas Music Video” (3:45). That’s not all, as we have a commentary with Regina King, Sharon Leal and Lauren London…which sounds a lot better than it actually is. The entire time the three participants just heap praise onto the other cast members and tell brief stories from the set. And this goes on for two hours, so I would just stay away from these.
Overall this release is worth a Rental. The extras aren’t worth but a once over and the commentary is not worth ones time.
This Christmas arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on November 11th.