In Nothing Like the Holidays, the Puerto Rican community of Chicago's snowy (and stunning-looking) Humboldt Park is the setting for a funny and touching Christmas dramedy.
Stoic Freddy Rodriguez, with an inner goodness that earns our trust, plays a scarred soldier returning to his borough from a traumatic three years in Iraq. Greeting him is a rogue's gallery of neighborhood friends, who tease each other with a cunning wit ("You're a wannbe-legal," laughs one friend) that serves to take everyone's mind off the crises that lurk around every corner, including a character teeming with revenge, a mother preparing herself for divorce and a father (tender and mild Alfred Molina) hiding a terrible secret.
Director Alfredo De Villa and screenwriters Alison Swan and Rick Najera are unafraid to present the realities of the modern minority world and explore how the Hispanic culture, with its emphasis on family, food and humor, is particularly adept at handling dark turns.
That this family, so torn apart, is able to bring out the Christmas spirit in each other – willing or not – is a grand lesson in how to hang on to the ones you love in a time that seems antithetical to the notion.
(Originally published in Orlando Weekly, Dec. 4, 2008)