These days, holiday-themed films come in two flavors: sourball comedies in the

Bad Santa

vein and sugarplum hearthwarmers like

This Christmas


Though the coming-attractions for Nothing Like the Holidays make it look like sourball slapstick, this unassuming and unexpectedly moving picture set in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood is a sugarplum-and-sofrito affair centering on the Rodriguez household.

Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Peña are Papacito and Mamacita Rodriguez, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their far-flung children.

Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer; Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito), an aspiring Hollywood actress; and Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez), a returning Iraq war vet. In tow with Mauricio is wife Sarah (Debra Messing), whose religion (Jewish), career (hedge-fund manager), and weight (zero body fat) are an affront to her Catholic, grandchild-yearning and carb-friendly mother-in-law.

Sarah's not the only one at the table feeling the pressure. Jesse, guilt-wracked by the loss of a fellow soldier in Iraq, is expected to join the family business and is carrying a torch for his ex (Melonie Diaz). Roxanna hasn't been altogether honest with her folks. Nor have Mom and Dad been forthcoming with the kids. If you're guessing that these secrets are a recipe for family meltdown, you would be right.

If the conflicts feel warmed over and the resolutions obvious, the performances, particularly those of Rodriguez, Ferlito, Messing and Peña, are so warm and winning that director Alfredo De Villa makes it a tasty entertainment. Though Molina, one of the acting greats, is never bad, his accent varies inexplicably from Puerto Rican-inflected to West Chicago-staccato to South London-hardboiled.