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Christmas has always been an elaborate production at the Whitfield house. And matriarch Shirley Ann "Ma'Dere" Whitfield is eagerly anticipating the homecoming of her beloved family. But it seems that this year each of her wandering chicks are returning to the nest with a suitcase full of troubles.
Daughter Kelli is tough but horribly lonely in her businesswoman lifestyle. Youngest girl Mel can't seem to make her way through college. Son Claude is currently AWOL from the Marines. Eldest son Quentin is a jazz saxophonist on the lam from debt-collecting thugs. Teenage boy Michael is still living at home but hiding a guilty desire. And eldest daughter Lisa is trying to hold her own family together under the weight of an overbearing, manipulative husband.
In the course of their three-day family reunion this troubled brood will also deal with a secret interracial marriage, a hidden pregnancy, a philandering husband, aggravated assault charges, a one-night fling, spousal abuse and a pending divorce.
And that's all before Christmas day.
In spite of the Whitfield's personal traumas and sibling squabbles, the one constant in this family is reemerging love. They may argue, but they always come to each other's aid when the skies are really dark. Even though Ma'Dere's boyfriend, Joe Black, is not a biological father to any of the kids (their real father abandoned the family), he loves them all and does everything he can to support them as a parent.
Joe is a deacon at the family's church. He and Ma'Dere both appear to be trying to live a Christian life—even though they are living with each other out of wedlock. Before the family dinner, Joe prays for God's blessing, ending with, "Through Christ our Lord." Joe also talks to Quentin about church and tells him, "Church ain't something you 'do.' It's a place where you go to commune with God." (Quentin retorts, "I don't believe in your God, Joe.")
Ma'Dere asserts her faith that the Lord will make it possible for her son to come home before he's sent back to the Marine base. But she later says, "If you want to hear the Lord laugh, just tell Him your plans." When she's surprised by the arrival of an unexpectedly white daughter-in-law, she says, "Thank God and Merry Christmas."
Michael has a tattoo of Jesus on his arm. Someone notes, "Rain, fires, mudslides—I think God don't like California." When the family attends Christmas morning church services, we hear a rendition of "Oh Holy Night."
Lisa strips to a skimpy bra and panties in two different scenes. All three Whitfield sisters (and several women at nightclubs) wear low-cut, cleavage-baring tops. Kelli tends to wear form-fitting outfits and, one time, runs into the street in a brief nightdress. Mel and her boyfriend, Devean, kiss passionately in the kitchen and then move into the pantry to have sex. (They are interrupted before they disrobe.)
While unpacking her clothes, Kelli puts a small vibrator in her bedside drawer. She stays out all night with a man she met at a club. The next day, she jokes with her sisters about the sex she had. And that evening, the man comes to the door and Kelli takes him up to her room. (We see a quick shot of them asleep in bed.)
Mel is shown climbing into bed with Devean. Joe wakes in Ma'Dere's bed. Lisa's husband, Malcome, meets his female business partner in a hotel room for a tryst. (The two are dressed in robes.) Malcome steps out of the shower clad only in a towel, and during the ensuing beating he takes from his wife (detailed in the next section), that towel moves around quite a bit.
Quentin smashes an empty brandy bottle over a thug's head. When the goon and his partner catch up to Quentin they punch him twice in the stomach. Later, after Quentin makes another break for it, the two corner him in a men's room and begin to beat him in earnest before Joe steps in and grabs a gun from one of the toughs.
Lisa pours baby oil on the bathroom floor so that Malcome will slip when he steps out of the shower. She then brandishes a belt and beats him with it repeatedly. Two guys at a bar make rude comments about Claude's new bride, whereupon he knocks one man down and puts a gun to his throat. Lisa and Kelli have a verbal fight on their front porch that ends up in a wrestling match in the rain. Lisa purposely wrecks Malcome's $80,000 Cadillac.
Crude or Profane Language
The f-word is mouthed once and 10 s-words are spoken. There are about a dozen uses of "d--n." The balance of bad language consists of occasional interjections of "h---," "a--" and "b--ch." God's name is misused eight or more times; Jesus' name once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Quentin smokes cigarettes in several scenes and drinks brandy in a jazz club. The whole family drinks beer, champagne and wine at dinnertime. Alcohol is also imbibed at a club and during several family meetings. Malcome drinks with his girlfriend. Angry about her cheating spouse, Lisa starts gulping down the hard stuff.
Other Negative Elements
A joking reference is made to Santa's affinity for the word ho.
Like many families, when the Whitfield clan shows up for a traditional Christmas get-together, an abundance of emotional struggles and sibling conflicts comes along for the ride. But this family boasts enough craziness to fill a dozen holidays.
Still, its members' determination to resolve these troubles that sets them apart and gives This Christmas something of a pro-family message. The brothers, sisters, cousins and aunts all support and love each other through their many difficulties. Ma'Dere and Joe are parental figures who rely on their faith and community to help set things right. And together, as a family, the Whitfields slowly find solutions.
Given this positive worldview, then, it's just downright odd that the movie also includes all the morally twisted and gratuitous content that it does. Ma'Dere and Joe are "shacking up," as Dr. Laura is so fond of saying. And their situation doesn't seem to bother the religious couple. Nor does it faze people in the family or in their church. Likewise, Kelli having an overnight sexual fling with a total stranger only raises questions of how good the sex was. And Lisa violently taking matters into her own hands with her philandering husband reaps nothing more than wholehearted applause from the family (and the film).
These and other examples of moral myopia give This Christmas a disquietingly uneven feel. It certainly doesn't offer much in the way of Christmas warm fuzzies. In fact, despite some nice seasonal music on the soundtrack and a decorated tree in the living room, This Christmas doesn't feel like it has anything to do with Christmas at all.
It reminds us of the value of creating love-centered families, but, for the most part, it leaves the importance of making upright choices and honoring God's standards out in the cold.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Loretta Devine as Shirley Ann "Ma'Dere" Whitfield; Delroy Lindo as Joseph Black; Idris Elba as Quentin Whitfield; Regina King as Lisa Whitfield Moore; Sharon Leal as Kelli Whitfield; Columbus Short as Claude Whitfield; Chris Brown as Michael "Baby" Whitfield; Laz Alonso as Malcome Moore; Mekhi Phifer as Gerald
Preston A. Whitmore II ( Crossover)